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Banner Binds Military Personnel And Little Leaguers Together

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (May 18, 2004) – For a Little Leaguer, stepping into harm’s way typically involves a bad hop, a collision at a base, or an errant pitch. But, for the 250 players in the Crowfield Little League in Goose Creek, S.C., it was a friendly gesture that brought a personal understanding of what harm’s way means to those who are defending democracy on foreign soil.

Almost by chance, the Crowfield Junior Baseball Cardinals met the 16th Airlift Squadron from 15 miles away at Charleston Air Force Base, but from that day forward they’ve been bound together like family.

For the Cardinals, there exists a somber appreciation for those men and women who patrol the skies and preserve freedom at home and abroad.

Barbara Eades, team mother for the Cardinals, said the meeting between the team and the airmen about to ship out to Middle East, just happened. The squadron was having a deployment party at the Short Stay Naval Recreation Center at the same time the 12 players, there coaches and families were enjoying an end-of-season party. Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Gary Goldstone, from Los Angeles, Calif., remembers that day fondly and said the meeting made a profound impact on his unit.

During the picnic, the young men met the members of the squadron and gave them a baseball signed by the team. Later that day, Mrs. Eades spoke with the boys and they decided to also give the soon-to-be-deployed airmen the Cardinals’ 2003 team banner.

“The squadron told the team they would take it wherever they were stationed and fly it on every mission,” said Mrs. Eades.

“The intent the whole time was to take the banner back to the Crowfield kids,” said Lt. Col. Goldstone. “When I asked each C-17 crew member going out on a mission to take the banner and baseball, there was a resounding, ‘yes, sir.’ It really was a feel-good type of deal.”

Mrs. Eades said the banner flew proudly during missions to Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan and several locales in Iraq and Kuwait, including the Iraqi capital of Baghdad.

“It was real cool to see it flying,” said Jeremy Eades, a 14-year-old pitcher and Barbara’s son. “I thought they’d just put it up somewhere and forget about it, but when I saw pictures from Iraq I thought, ‘I can’t believe we were actually talking to those people.’”

The squadron was rotated back to the United States earlier this year and the unit brought the banner home. In March, at Crowfield Little League’s opening day ceremonies, the squadron’s second in command, Lt. Col. Randy Witham, presented the banner back to the league along with an American flag.

“It was very somber when Lt. Col. Witham brought the American flag and the banner back to the kids at opening ceremonies,” Mrs. Eades said. “The tiny kids were just standing there with there mouths open. They didn’t really understand and were so quiet – It was just awesome.”

Cardinals’ manager Jim Lund, who is a chief machinist at the Charleston airbase, and four members of the 2003 Cardinals, including Jeremy, accepted the banner and flag.

Mrs. Eades said the airmen were reserved with their emotions, but still excited to be back.

“The kids may not know the details or understand all of the other ramifications for us being over there, but they know there are people out there on the same team as us and they want to do what’s right,” said Lt. Col. Goldstone. “When we come back home, the things we see in America – such as kids playing Little League Baseball without having to worry about their own safety and security – is what makes this country great and keeps us going.”

During the time that the squadron was in the Middle East, Mrs. Eades said the Little Leaguers starting watching the world news more, thinking maybe they would see the banner.

“I thought it would be all torn up,” Jeremy said. But, when it was returned, “It looked just like when we gave it to them. We just thought they were over there flying back and forth, but now we know who is actually protecting us.”

The banner and the donated American flag will now have a home in the concession stand at the Crowfield Little League field, but Mrs. Eades said she will only display it on special occasions.