SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Jackie Robinson West team was getting ready to go live on ESPN after Sunday's loss to South Korea in the Little League World Series championship game when manager Darold Butler's phone rang.
It was President Obama's people, calling to get Butler on the line so Obama could congratulate him and the team on their great run.
"I said 'Can you call me back in 5-10 minutes?'" Butler said. "So they called back, and that's when I talked to him."
Butler told the president to hold?
"Don't say it like that," he said with a laugh. "We were walking on stage (to go) live at that time."
Of course, the president eventually got to talk to Butler and his team. Butler said he "let us know how proud he was of us, and how we made the city proud.
"The kids were excited. There were extra excited to hear from the president. I was too. I was stuck. I didn't know what to say. 'OK. All right, Mr. President.' It was cool."
Jackie Robinson West's run may have ended with the loss to South Korea, but the journey of the U.S. champs will long be remembered. The party continues with a celebration at Jackie Robinson Field on Monday afternoon when their flight from Philadelphia returns to Midway, and then a parade is scheduled for Wednesday.
The team is expected to get invited to the White House, according to one source, though no date has been scheduled.
"I'm still shocked by everything," Butler said. "This whole journey has been a complete shock for me. I couldn't have asked for anything more. I have the best coaches, the best kids to be around. They made it an enjoyable experience."
Butler, 36, has been in the middle of a Disney-esque ride, getting the kids to play winning, fundamentally sound baseball all the way through the tournament.
A former second-team All-State second baseman at Simeon in 1996, and a 24th-round draft pick of the Blue Jays who never signed, he's now one of a handful of Chicago coaches or managers in the last three decades to have taken his team to a high-profile championship, joining Mike Ditka, Phil Jackson, Ozzie Guillen and Joel Quenneville.
"They're grown men, so I don't know if it compares," said his father, Dennis Butler. "But it's up there."
Dorald's wife, Donita, said he deserves to be mentioned with the elite leaders in Chicago sports history.
"That's great company, and this is a great accomplishment," she said. "It was such a good experience. To bring something positive back to Chicago is huge."
The good-natured Butler has handled his sudden celebrity status with aplomb, and even when he returns to his job as an engineer at Union Pacific, he's likely to get some more publicity for the team's championship season.
"I'm sure that wasn't really his intention," Dennis Butler said. "Those other (coaches) are millionaires. We're not. We're a long way away from it. We're poor people. But we work harder than anyone."