Taney Dragon first baseman Joseph Richardson Jr., son of Drexel Systems Analyst Manager Chanel Ward-Richardson. Image courtesy of Dan Gleiter, PennLive.com
“Tell me how the last few months have been for you.”
Chanel Ward-Richardson, systems analyst manager for Drexel's Office of Academic Information & Systems, starts laughing and covers her face with her hands, in a show of happy exhaustion.
“Are you tired?”
No words again, just laughter. She’s still reeling from the day before, August 27, when thousands of people crowded around her, her son, Joseph, and his teammates on a float gliding along the streets of Philadelphia.
The crowd just wanted to get a glimpse of the amazing Taney Dragons, the Philadelphia team of 12 all-star players who had an exhilarating run in the Little League World Series last month. They were eliminated after a 6-5 loss to Chicago on August 21.
Ward-Richardson’s son Joseph is one of those Dragons, the 13-year-old, 5-foot-9 first baseman with a powerful arm. She’s got two other children, two daughters, but Ward-Richardson admits this was the Summer of Joe.
Chanel Ward-Richardson and her son, Joseph Richardson Jr.
Ward-Richardson harkens back to 2009, when second-grader Joseph started playing baseball for Taney. Surely he must have been a standout player from the start.
“Absolutely not,” she joked. “He couldn’t hit at all. The whole second-grade season, I think he had one hit.”
What did stand out, though, was his size. “He had a strong arm; he was one of the few kids that could be in center field and throw the ball all the way into home plate.”
Joseph continued to play for Taney and for other local travel teams, and he got better and better along the way. Two years ago, Ward-Richardson says, they got a call that Taney obtained a Little League Charter.
“They said they wanted to make a run for Little League World Series,” she said. “And my husband said, ‘Ok, we’re in.’”
The first year of the charter, the Taney team lost at the district level, and the season was over. But it was a great learning experience, and prepared them for this year, Ward-Richardson said.
This year, Ward-Richardson and her fellow Taney parents watched the team blast up the ranks: they won their district competition, then sectionals, then the state competition, and finally, regionals. Ward-Richardson said she was able to take time off from work to attend most of the action. It was after the win in regionals that Little League Word Series officials “kidnapped” her son, she laughed.
“We knew we were going to the World Series, but what that actually meant never really registered,” she said. “After they won regionals, there was a meeting with the parents, and they told us all the stuff that’s about to happen and that they were taking the children from here and dorming them. They said we wouldn’t see them very much from here.”
With the players isolated in a town hours from Philadelphia and kept under such strict security during the run of the World Series, they were not fully aware that their city had erupted with Taney Dragon pride, Ward-Richardson said.
So as the parade float cruised onto 20th Street from JFK Boulevard, the players and their parents grew wide-eyed with shock and awe.
“We thought we were getting on these floats and riding around the city and people walking on the street would just wave to us and that would be that,” she said. “But there were massive crowds of people — it freaked me out. When we got to the Kimmel Center, the Philadelphia Orchestra was playing for us, and we couldn’t even hear them over the screaming mobs of people.”
The excitement continued at Citizens Bank Park, where the team and their parents received the royal treatment, complete with red carpet, a meet-and-greet with the Philadelphia Phillies and a dance party with the Phillie Phanatic.
“It was the perfect punctuation on the summer for them,” she says.
After such a whirlwind summer, it’s back to business as usual for the Richardson family. Ward-Richardson is back in her cubicle managing information systems that support Drexel students. Young Joseph has swapped a baseball bat for an XBox controller.
“He just wants to hang out with his friends and play XBox and sit around eating pizza,” she said. “I told him to change the cat litter and clean his room and his friends can come over after that.”
Now that it’s all over, Ward-Richardson has time to reflect.
“I’m really proud of him, and happy for him,” she said. “He puts a lot of time into baseball and it’s great to see your child get to enjoy the fruits of their hard work and their dedication.”
“This was definitely the best summer of their lives,” she said of the Taney Dragons. “Until they do it again.”