With words of encouragement and praise, hugs and handshakes and a good old-fashioned cheer, the Warner Robins American Little League all-stars headed off this afternoon in pursuit of a second straight world title.
About 150 people gave the defending World Series champs, mostly 11-and-12-year-olds, a warm send-off from the Flint Energies Sports Complex off Cohen Walker Drive for the Little League Southeast Regional tournament that opens Saturday in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"We don't want to put any undue pressure on these gentlemen," said Mayor Pro Tem Clifford Holmes, "Bring home the gold."
The crowd of well-wishers roared with cheers and applause.
"Can we do it again?" asked team manager Tom Nauss. "Anything's possible."
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This new group of all-stars — with only two returning members from the world champion team — already has won every game this post-season, outscoring their opponents 110-19 in 10 games to win a second consecutive state championship last week.
Payton Purvis, 13, who pitches and plays first base, and Hunt Smith, 12, who plays centerfield, the two returning all-stars from last year, are taking it all in stride.
Purvis said he focuses on one game at a time, while Smith said last year's experience prepared him for what's ahead.
"I always pray to God before every game," said Smith, a seventh-grader at Mossy Creek Middle School. "I look to him for my strength."
The team's caravan was escorted to Houston Lake Road, then to Russell Parkway to Interstate 75 by Warner Robins police and Houston County sheriff's officers.
"We'd like to take them out in style because we're looking forward to bringing them back in style," police Lt. Todd Edwards said.
Sheriff's Capt. Alan Everidge and Sgt. Tommy Spires will go all the way to Florida with the boys to provide a little extra security for the hometown heroes.
"We're just proud of these boys for what they've accomplished," Sheriff Cullen Talton said.
J. Randolph Murray, editor of the Sun News in Warner Robins, announced at the sendoff that The Telegraph plans to Webcast the games live on macon.com — except for the championship, for which ESPN has the broadcast rights.
For more on this story, come back later to macon.com or read Friday's Telegraph.