Thursday August 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- When the fire truck full of baseball players turned onto Allen Street and the police escort flipped on the lights and sirens, Steve Witkowski said he "felt like a winner."

Witkowski and his Pittsfield teammates got a heroes' welcome on Wednesday, hours before they departed for the Babe Ruth 15-year-old World Series in Van Buren, Ark. The team rode on the back of a fire truck provided by Jim Conant, a member of the local Babe Ruth Board of Directors, before arriving on the steps of City Hall to be met by an adoring crowd and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

"[Bianchi] actually goes to my church," Witkowski said. "I kind of knew him. I don't know if he knows me. Hopefully he does now. It was cool."

Bianchi said he's gotten to know this band of All-Stars thanks to their inspired run to the New England regional title out of the losers' bracket last week in Quincy. The mayor said he felt compelled to honor the team with a cross-country trip looming.

"It's huge," Bianchi said. "Think about it. We have [10] teams across the country that are going to be participating. The odds of it are phenomenal. It's a huge thing for the city but even moreso for these kids."

The experience of a lifetime began this morning with a 2 a.m. trip to Boston's Logan Airport, where the team was scheduled to fly out at 7:40 a.m. Witkowski and his teammates were excited for the trip, even if it did mean a long day of travel.

The team was still basking in the glow of a New England title on Wednesday. Joe Carusotto, father of player Alex Carusotto, said the last week had been a whirlwind.

"Oh my god, everybody's ecstatic," Joe said. "I think it's a great thing for Pittsfield, too. It's a great thing. Every one of those kids deserves to be there. They worked hard."

After riding on Conant's 1967 Maxim Model S pumper and speaking with the mayor, the players wheeled around City Hall for a cookout in a nearby courtyard. Witkowski had to finish chewing a hot dog before speaking to a reporter, while Chad Shade seemed a bit in awe.

"It's nice to know that people in our city are recognizing this," Shade said. "We feel good about it, going to the World Series. Everyone's here supporting us. It's fantastic."