Fame is full-time work for Jackie Robinson West

Written By BY SETH GRUEN Staff Reporter Posted: 08/15/2014, 03:44pm

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — The Jackie Robinson West Little League team hadn’t been inside the Little League World ­Series ­complex for a minute Friday afternoon before it was asked for a photo — by an adult.

That’s been the norm for these youngsters since they piled onto the set of ESPN’s ‘‘SportsCenter” on Thursday night in South Williamsport. There, right fielder Pierce Jones was asked if he chose to wear No. 23 because of its ­significance in Chicago.

‘‘It’s the jersey that fit at the time,’’ Jones told ESPN’s Jay ­Crawford.

After his three-home run performance in Thursday’s win against Lynnwood Pacific, Jones is the series’ A-list celebrity. But his teammates aren’t far behind.

Batting practice early Friday was Jackie Robinson West’s only true time alone for the day. Much of the players’ time afterward was dedicated to signing autographs and taking pictures with kids their own age, Little League World ­Series alums and adults.

They found sanctuary in a roped-off area of the Lamade Stadium stands, where they watched Mo’ne Davis of Philadelphia’s Taney Dragons throw a complete-game shutout against Tennessee.

The most memorable of the faces they’ve met are other players. Before entering Lamade Stadium to watch the Davis gem, D.J. Butler — the manager’s son and switch-hitting center fielder — and teammates caught up with other players enjoying a day off. Their conversation didn’t last long before a group of girls in their early teens approached Butler & Co. asking for pictures and autographs.

‘‘It was cool, but it’s kind of tiring because we can’t even walk 10 feet without people saying, ‘Can I get your autograph? Can I take your picture,’ ’’ Butler said. ‘‘The other teams are very cool and fun to hang out with. The fans are great here, and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so you’ve got to take advantage of it.’’

Their celebrity status will only grow when they play Mountain Ridge of Las Vegas on Sunday. The game was selected to air on ABC.

Before then, Jackie Robinson West has at least another day of navigating the crowd, which saw an uptick in attendance on Day 2 of the tournament.

Jones, who took phone calls all day Friday, said he plans to turn his phone off at least two hours before Sunday’s game.

‘‘We try to stay humble about it and not let it get to our heads,’’ Jones said. ‘‘We’re going to accept it — we’re going to embrace it. We’re not going to try to fight it off and try to not let it happen. We’re just going to embrace it and have fun.’’

Moving forward, the team will make an effort to spend time away from the complex. Manager Darold Butler said he plans to hold ­another off-site practice but keep it ‘‘light and relaxed,’’ similar to ­Friday’s hitting-oriented session.

‘‘They’re a bit overwhelmed,’’ he said. ‘‘They can’t believe that so many kids that’s their age or older want their autographs. They want to just get to know them. So a lot of them, they’ve taken it pretty well. They’re still staying humble.’’

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen

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