The 2011 American Legion Baseball World Series in Shelby, N.C., swung into action Thursday evening with a dinner for the eight regional champions at Shelby City Park, as well as an entertaining performance by Grammy winner Ronnie Dunn at Cleveland County Fairgrounds.
As the players and coaches paraded into the city park's banquet hall, they were greeted with enthusiasm from Shelby World Series executive committee members, supporters and volunteers, as well as Legion Baseball volunteers, North Carolina Legionnaires, a few American Legion past national commanders and many other dignitaries. Following the players' procession, the North Carolina Army National Guard presented colors while the 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus from Fort Bragg proudly performed the national anthem. Afterward, Baseball Hall of Fame Senior Vice President Bill Haase conducted the POW/MIA ceremony with assistance from the North Carolina Army National Guard.
Once everyone enjoyed Shelby's delicious southern food of red slaw, barbecue pork, hush puppies and their famous sweet tea, the 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus gave another memorable performance. They performed "Sweet Carolina" by James Taylor along with a song dedicated to fallen comrades.
With music in their ears, the players ventured off to the Cleveland County Fairgrounds for their next musical performance: Ronnie Dunn with special guest Colt Ford.
On route to the fairgrounds, the players were escorted by law enforcement, military vehicles, Marine Corps League and bikers. And once on site, many players had their picture taken by The American Legion/David Law Firm 76 Freedom Car and spoke with driver Jerick Johnson.
"We wanted to be a part of the World Series once when heard it was coming to Shelby," Johnson said. "So for us to have The American Legion Freedom Car here at the fairgrounds on display for everyone to see is really neat."
Colt Ford had the crowd on their feet cheering in the stands as he mixed rap with country, while Ronnie Dunn had the crowd signing and clapping their hands. And for many of the young men, this was their first country concert. "I've never been to a country concert, but after this performance by Colt Ford and Ronnie Dunn, I'm definitely going to start going to more, said Kevin Kramer from Brooklawn, N.J. "Everything Shelby has done for us so far has been awesome and the field (Keeter Stadium) is unbelievable. I can't believe it's a high school field. So now I'm just ready for the first game; to get it all started."
Dunn played well into the night in front of an audience that cheered nonstop. But it all came to end by 11 p.m., as the players had to rest for their first big game day, even though many players were still running around with energy and excitement.
"It feels so good to be here because we never thought we could make it this far," said Austin Bali from Waipahu, H.I.
Watch today's games live streamed by ESPN3. To access ESPN3, visit www.legion.org where a direct link to the site is available.
Friday's game schedule (all times EDT):Game 1: 10 a.m.; Eden Prairie, Minn. vs. Midland, Mich.Game 2: 1 p.m.; Las Vegas vs. Tupelo, Miss.Game 3: 5 p.m.; Bedford, N.H. vs. Brooklawn, N.J.Game 4: 8 p.m.; Gaffney, S.C. vs. Waipahu, H.I.