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Fans Relish Harlem Little Leaguers

August 23, 2002

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NEW YORK (AP) _ The spirited Little Leaguers from Harlem lost on a last-inning home run, bringing their run for a World Series title to a heartbreaking end.

But fans back home in their working-class neighborhood say they still savor what the team gave them _ something to cheer about.

``You just watch when they come back,″ fan Phil Howell said. ``The mayor should offer them a parade. It’s just that they got there. I’m proud of them, and I don’t know a single kid on that team.″

Howell watched Thursday night from Bar Hide-a-Way in Harlem as the Little Leaguers dropped their U.S. semifinal game 5-2 to a team from Worcester, Mass.

The Worcester team will play a Kentucky team Saturday for the national title, and the winner will play for the world championship. After a consolation third-place game, the Harlem players will come home.

The team will be welcomed by a city consumed by the approaching anniversary of the World Trade Center attack. The constant reminders of Sept. 11 have made the city eager for good news, said Ed Simmelkjaer, a lifelong resident of Harlem.

``They could be from Queens, they could be from Suffolk, they could be from Staten Island _ it wouldn’t matter,″ Simmelkjaer said. ``New York needs all the positive energy it can get, especially around 9-11.″

Early in their Little League World Series run, the Harlem team faced questions about whether three of their players lived outside the district. Little League officials later cleared the team.

The team still gained some scorn for showboating during big moments in their games. One player pointed to the outfield in an allusion to Babe Ruth’s famous called shot, and another waved goodbye to a home run sailing over the fence.

But fans in Harlem say the children deserved to celebrate.

``After all the stuff we’ve gone through in the past year, this team shows the rest of the world that we’re strong,″ said Victor Marino, a Harlem construction worker.

The run by the Harlem Little Leaguers came as the 30 major league baseball clubs threaten to strike Aug. 30 over differences with the owners in team payrolls and revenue sharing.

The labor strife has left New Yorkers eager to embrace the Little Leaguers.

``The little kids are great,″ said Diana Womack, who lives in a Harlem nursing home. ``The big leaguers, maybe they they’re just tired of playing baseball. Maybe they all need to retire.″

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