HOUSTON – The boys of Pearland East have taken some big walks this summer, onto the field at the Little League World Series and around the bases in front of thousands of fans.
But the walk through Bush Intercontinental Airport Saturday afternoon, coming home as the fourth best team in the nation, was one of their best strolls of the summer.
"It's a good feeling," said Pearland East player Landon Donley. "We've been gone for a week from our parents and it's good to come back to our own home."
Manager Don Smith added, "Obviously we would much rather be playing today, I'll make that perfectly clear, but last couple days we were ready to get home to Houston and to Pearland."
The boys' stellar run ended on Tuesday, with a loss to Chicago's Jackie Robinson West. That team is now headed to the championship game against South Korea on Sunday.
But Pearland East's players took away so much more than what was on the scoreboard, like Brandon Sliwinski's prized souvenir, and all it represents.
"It's actually a ball signed by all the Japan team," said Brandon, showing it off.
His teammate, Landon, added that his favorite part was, "Meeting all the teams and playing them."
"And they realize they're just like them," said Brandon's dad Jeff Sliwinski. "They like to play baseball and they like to play ping pong and video games and when the games were done and they lost, they sat around and ate pizza together. So it was pretty neat to see that."
But it's a quick turnaround from baggage claim to picking up their backpacks. The boys will all be going back to school on Monday.
"Summer playing baseball was really fun," said Brandon. "But going back to learning for another six months, or however long..." "However long you decide to stick it out," KHOU11 News reporter Alice Barr joked. Brandon laughed and said, "Yeah."
But they've already packed so many lessons into a few short months, coming home a little more grown up than when they left.
"They handled it like adults, not like 12-year-olds, even when they lost, they kept their heads held high and went on to the next game," said Landon's mom Traci Donley.
So as the kids and parents gave their final hugs, they knew they were saying goodbye to something special.
"Right now they have no idea what they accomplished," said Smith.
"It's pretty emotional," Sliwinski added. "My wife and I had plenty of times walking back to the hotel, just tears of joy coming down."
While Landon summed it up best, saying simply, "I'm gonna remember this for my whole life."