As Chicago baseball fans watch ballyhooed phenoms such as Jose Abreu and Javier Baez, another group of local ballplayers is seizing the spotlight.
Roseland's own Jackie Robinson West team, known to South Side natives as JRW, will compete in the Little League World Series beginning Thursday in Williamsport, Pa. West is comprised of 11- and 12-year-olds representing several South Side neighborhoods and is Chicago's first team in the World Series since 1983.
JRW debuted in 1971 and has built a storied tradition. Several players have gone on to be drafted by major league teams. Among them: Anthony Brewer, who was selected by Florida in the fourth round in 2000.
RedEye touched base with former Jackie Robinson West players for their perspectives on the team's success and what they learned during their Little League days.
Ryan Robinson, 35, Morgan Park
Baseball coach for West Englewood Tigers team
"I played for JRW from [age] 4-16. I also was on the All-Star teams and actually won a state championship in 1992. I am an avid follower of the team. There are a lot of people who have benefited from the lessons that were taught to us on the ball field. I am eternally grateful for all the benefits I received through the league. I think it's awesome that the world is finally aware of how awesome of an institution we have."
Rico Jones, 33, Roseland
"It's an honor to see those little guys having this opportunity. I think it promotes [and] gives a positive image of the youth in Chicago, especially [the] South Side. It shows other kids in Chicago and other poverty-stricken areas that it is possible to achieve a goal in life. Those kids will remember this for the rest of lives. This makes me proud to say I'm from the South Side of Chicago and I'm a Jackie Robinson West former player!"
David Larry, 24, Chatham
Mental health case worker
"I played for Jackie Robinson West for two seasons between 1999 and 2001 with the Phillies team, and it was a great and exhilarating experience. My father has always been a fan of baseball, so I learned the game at a young age but initially I only wanted to play as means of passing time until basketball was back in season. The times I had playing baseball, though, taught me a great level of patience, attention to detail and execution. It's great to see Chicago youth getting positive attention in the news and I would love to see more leagues established to give the youth a positive outlet for their energy. I really hope the young guys go all the way and win the championship!"
Antonio Levi, 22, Roseland
Former Lincoln University (Mo.) baseball player
"I played from 1999-2008. I formed bonds with a lot kids I am friends with [to] this day. I learned to be a part of a team—good sportsmanship. No matter how much adversity we have, we can overcome it. I learned that baseball is a way out. I'm happy for those guys. They worked hard this year. I know a few of them because I played with their brothers. I'm going to have everyone watching them. I hope they bring home that World Series championship."
LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES
Jackie Robinson West (Midwest) vs. Lynnwood Pacific (Northwest)
2 p.m. Thursday, ESPN