It was a cloudy Wednesday morning in Chicago. Thirteen-year-old Brandon Green, Jackie Robinson West’s catcher and pitcher during the team’s remarkable run to a Little League World Series U.S. title last summer, was riding to the school bus stop with his mother. It was just after 7 a.m.
Suddenly, the morning shattered into a million pieces.
Yesterday, Jackie Robinson West’s U.S. Little League World Series title — the one that had uplifted, thrilled, and united the city of Chicago and given it something to be proud of — was taken away.
Little League Baseball alleged that Jackie Robinson West officials had included players on their team from outside their designated recruiting area by using a falsified boundary map. Additionally, Jackie Robinson West Little League officials were accused of meeting with other leagues in Illinois District 4 to try to obtain the territory they wrongfully had claimed was theirs for the 2014 tournament.
“During our review, it became clear that both Jackie Robinson West officials and District Administrator Mike Kelly signed documents to make players eligible who should not have been,” said Little League International president and CEO Stephen D. Keener.
At least two players were found to have lived outside Jackie Robinson West’s recruiting boundary, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Where has that summer in Williamsport gone? What happened to the screaming fans, the proud faces of the parents, the kids’ smiles?
“I saw the tears well up in his eyes,” Brandon Green’s mom, Venisa, told DNAinfo.com. “I asked him, was he O.K., should we go back home? And he said, ‘No Mommy, I'll be O.K.’”
She texted the other players’ parents. They were all stunned and searching for an explanation for what had just occurred.
“We were totally blindsided, as we did not know any of this was going on,” Venisa told DNAinfo. “We didn't know [Little League International] was visiting Chicago, investigating our league. We didn't know that they had made this decision.” [Click here for a timeline of Jackie Robinson West's Little League World Series Run]
As Brandon steadied his resolve and headed into Kenwood Academy for school, the storm around Chicago was just beginning.
By mid-morning, many local politicians had issued statements strongly supporting JRW.
“These remarkable boys brought our entire city together and reminded all Chicagoans how important it is to support our children,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said in a statement. “They created memories that will last a lifetime and nothing will take that away, and they showed the nation their character both on and off the field. The city remains united in its support of these great children, and in our hearts, they will always be champions in Chicago.”
Little League Baseball seemed to agree. “What these players accomplished on the field and the memories and lessons they have learned during the Little League World Series tournament is something the kids can be proud of,” Keener said.
But, he added, their accomplishments were tainted by grownups. “It is unfortunate that the actions of adults have led to this outcome.”
For many in Chicago, the situation wasn’t so cut and dry.
The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Michael Pfleger called a news conference in the afternoon. Both Jackson and Pfleger complained that race had played a role in the decision.
“Is this about boundaries or about race?” Jackson asked. “It should not take six months after the team has played the game to determine if the players were eligible to play the game.”
A few Jackie Robinson West players and their parents attended the press conference, including Brandon and his mom. Venisa was angry about what she saw was “disrespectful” treatment of her son and his teammates.
“Fifty years ago, [African-Americans] couldn’t even play on the baseball field,” Venisa said. “And 50 years later, our boys not only played, they won, in front of the United States of America,” Venisa said.
For Brandon, and the other players, what it comes down to is what they did on the field and the accomplishments no one can take away.
“Me and my teammates work hard all year long and went down there to play baseball,” he said. “And we weren't involved in anything that could have caused us to be stripped of our championship. But we do know that we’re champions, our parents know that we’re champions, and the team’s parents know that we’re champions, and Chicago knows we’re champions.”
Photos: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo (championship), Scott Olson/Getty Images (Brandon Green)