Thursday morning, the eight American Legion Baseball teams in the World Series dressed in uniform for pictures and practiced at Keeter Stadium in Shelby, N.C. And by mid-afternoon, the players were being escorted by Shelby patrol cars and military vehicles to the LeGrand Center for a banquet in their honor.
Upon arriving at the banquet, the eight teams were individually introduced as they walked inside a grand ballroom to the song "We Are the Champions" by Queen. The players and coaches received standing ovations from attendees that included community members, World Series program volunteers and committee members, North Carolina Legionnaires, the North Carolina Army National Guard and the 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus from Fort Bragg, N.C.
With excitement all around them at the banquet, the immense accomplishment of winning their way to the top was felt by all.
"It means a lot for me to be here," said Cameron McRae, a catcher for Florence, S.C., Post 1, "because I've played with a lot of these guys for a long time, and we've worked hard so it feels good to have accomplished a spot in the Legion World Series and be at something this special. And tomorrow on the field we are going to try to not focus on so much of the surroundings and the hype, but just play hard like we have all summer."
And for New Orleans Post 125 players, they saw firsthand the impact they made on former players once they won the Mid-South regional tournament.
"It's the first time our team (Post 125) has been to the World Series in 32 years," said Luke Voiron, a pitcher/centerfielder for New Orleans. "Men from the 1980 team, and even the 1960 World Series championship team, came to our regional tournament and were teary eyed when they saw us win — that meant a lot to me, and I'm just glad to be here."
After everyone settled in their seats for dinner, colors were presented by the North Carolina Army National Guard in tune to the national anthem performed by the 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus. But before dinner was served, a donated Legion World Series painting was unveiled.
Local artist Mary Sparrow captured a photo taken during the 2011 Legion World Series onto canvas — it's of the North Carolina National Guard presenting colors with Legion players standing alongside in attention. She will donate a new painting yearly as a contribution to the Legion World Series, the military and the Shelby community.
The 82nd Airborne All-American Chorus resumed their musical entertainment during the banquet by singing military songs, as well as "Amazing Grace." But the music didn't stop there. After the banquet concluded, the players were escorted to the Cleveland County Fairgrounds for a live performance by country music duo Montgomery Gentry, with special guest James Wesley.
Receptions and concerts have kept the players busy since they arrived in Shelby on Wednesday, but that hasn't caused a returning team to lose sight of their focus.
"Our focus is on playing hard, playing the way we've always practiced and to not let our nerves get to us because this (Legion World Series) is a fun environment to play in," said Cody Brown, a pitcher for Brooklawn, N.J.
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