August 29, 2013GROSSE POINTE WOODS — The Grosse Pointe Woods-Shores Little League team returned home last week to sirens, applause and lots of hugs from family, friends and fans.
About 200 people turned out on the front lawn of the Woods city hall to welcome back the local champs on their return from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. While they weren't able to bring back the top prize, the team brought back memories to last a lifetime.
"This is unbelievable," said head coach Tom Mazzola as he stepped off the bus that brought the players and coaches back from Williamsport. "This has been such an incredible experience."
The crowd of well-wishers ranged from mayors and city council members to team member Ryan Shanley's little brother, Luke, 7, and his little sister, Lily, who while excited to see her big brother, wasn't so sure about playing baseball, saying she's going to stick with gymnastics.
Luke, on the other hand, who plays shortstop on his Little League team, is looking forward to going to the 2018 World Series.
Mom Kelly Shanley said the family had traveled to Williamsport to watch the games, calling it "the experience of a lifetime" for both the players and their families.
"We've been watching Ryan play since he was in T-ball," she said, "and this was a wonderful way for him to end his Little League career."
Like several of the other players on the Woods-Shores team, Ryan, or as he is known on the diamond, Rhyno, will be playing next year for the Grosse Pointe Avengers.
Jennifer Quain, along with Sarafina and Eleni Melhem, turned out to welcome home their neighbor, the Mazzolas, both coach Tom and his son, Jimmy.
"We wanted to be here to cheer them on," Quain said. "This has been so exciting for all of us."
As the team members exited the bus, and lined up on the steps of city hall, the crowd applauded and shouted its approval.
"Let's hear it for Mazzola!" one fan shouted.
The Woods-Shores team represented the Great Lakes region in the World Series, and served as a representative of the best 16 teams in the world. They played against teams from California, Iowa and the Czech Republic. Despite losses, including being nohit by eventual tournament runner-up California, the team played well in a comeback effort the following day against Iowa, only to lose 6-5.
"Gentlemen, you did your cities proud," league president Dick Borland told the boys. "This was an exceptional accomplishment."
Coach Mazzola told the crowd his team had had a true big league experience.
"People asked for autographs, we were on ESPN, they even did our laundry for us," he said. "I don't think there is any way to ever top this."
Mazzola went on to thank the assistant coaches, the community and especially the parents for their support.
This will be Mazzola's last season of coaching, as his youngest son ages out of Little League.
Woods Mayor Robert Novitke and Shores Mayor Ted Kedzierski were on hand to welcome their young constituents and promised a bigger celebration was in the planning stages. Both mayors, along with a police escort, met the team bus as it exited the freeway at the Vernier exit and accompanied it to city hall.
"They truly represented their communities with distinction," Novitke said. "Mayor Kedzierski and I were proud to be among the first to welcome them back."
And just in case any of the boys ever need a reminder of how they spent their summer vacation, Shores resident John Lizza, proud grandfather of center fielder Johnny Lizza, has saved all of the newspaper articles he could find about the team.
Those articles should top just about any other summer reading list.