Houston & Peach

WRALL express steams forward

It was somewhat fitting that the ballpark where they clinched a third state crown in a row was situated where it was.

On the rail line just beyond left field at Doyle Street Park in Toccoa, the Amtrak Crescent regularly whistles through on its journeys up and down the country, back and forth from New York City to New Orleans.

Likewise, the Little League locomotive known as Warner Robins American, dubbed “the little team that could” by sportscaster Brent Musburger three seasons ago after that squad’s world championship triumph, seems to keep on chugging, too.

Its dozen players, two coaches and untold carloads of supporters pull out of the station again this week. Destination: West Virginia and the Little League Southeast Regional Tournament.

The Warner Robins kids bested Columbus Northern 7-3 on Friday, outlasting 10 teams from across the state in a week-long tournament to clinch their home league’s third Georgia-title banner in the 11- and-12-year-old age group since 2007.

Now the work begins for parents and league volunteers as they scramble to make travel arrangements.

In 2007 and 2008, the regional was in Gulfport, Fla., near St. Petersburg.

This year, with Little League International in the process of building its new Southeastern headquarters and tourney stadium next door to the Warner Robins American complex just off Ga. 96, the eight-team tournament is in Ceredo-Kenova, W.Va., near Huntington.

“If it was next year, we wouldn’t have to pack our bags or travel now,” one of the team moms, Melanie Jones, said Saturday as the team pulled out of Toccoa. “It’s fun but hectic, a little stressful fun. Once you get there, you can enjoy it, but first we’ve got to get packed and raise some money.”

The team is already raising eyebrows across the region.

Reached Saturday, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, an alum of Warner Robins American’s fledgling seasons, said, “There are a lot of Little League teams in Georgia, so to win it three years in a row has got to be unprecedented.”

Perdue joked, “It’s got to be tougher than getting re-elected every year.”

The governor, who was in the crowd when Warner Robins won the 2007 Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., said he wouldn’t mind dropping in to see this year’s squad in Ceredo-Kenova.

“If we’re successful early on ... I would love to get up there and encourage them,” Perdue said.

The West Virginia site is a place this year’s crop of Warner Robins all-stars know well.

Two years ago, while the 11- and 12-year-olds from Warner Robins were winning it all up the road in Pennsylvania, several players from this year’s bunch — as 9- and 10-year-olds — were winning the 10-team Tournament of State Champions at the ballpark in West Virginia.

Randy Jones, who coached that team, also coaches this one and is familiar with the West Virginia setting.

“It’s got the wooden picket fence in the outfield instead of chain link. It has real nice brick walls down the sides. You can lean over the brick and watch a ballgame,” Jones said. “We’re on cloud nine to be going.”

What’s more, they won’t be the only Peach State ambassadors to grace the field there this summer.

The 11- and 12-year-old girls’ softball team from Warner Robins American, on a run of its own, was 3-0 in regional play after defeating Alabama 3-0 on Saturday.

The governor had gotten word of their good fortune as well.

“It looks like (the boys) are getting some company,” Perdue said.

Warner Robins American league president Ken Hathaway said, “We are extremely proud of what (the girls) are doing.” Hathaway was having the oil changed in his car for the drive up to see the Robins softballers play in today’s semifinal round.

“We’re just fortunate to live in the community we live in. The people have stepped up to support us in the past and they’re stepping again.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397