KAU team returns home to rousing reception

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Kennett Kings earn fans – and memories – with series of achievements

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

The U.S. Champion Senior

Members of the KAU team – the U.S. Senior League Baseball champs –  line up for an appreciative crowd at their field on Leslie Road in Kennett Square.

Sandwiched between nearly a dozen emergency vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring in downtown Kennett Square, the bus driver was asked whether this was an average ride.

“Nope. I usually try to avoid this,” he joked – and then added: “You guys have been awesome.”

Hundreds of area residents agreed as the convoy carrying the Kennett Kings – the Eastern Regional Senior League Baseball champs – returned home from Bangor, Maine, where they were runners-up in the World Series.

The crew on the bus, which included coaches, the 13 players, and sundry family members said they were not prepared for the reception they received.

KAU Pitcher Alex Pechin shows off his trend-setting Italian shorts.

KAU Pitcher Alex Pechin shows off his trend-setting Italian shorts.

Sue Duerr, the wife of KAU Manager Todd Duerr and mother of catcher Eric Duerr, said they knew some folks planned to greet them, but they had no clue that the scope of the celebration would be so substantial, especially on short notice.

Bruce Mitchell, deputy fire chief for the Kennett Fire Company, said one phone call led to another – and another. Before long, crews from Kennett, Longwood, Avondale and Po-Mar-Lin were on board for the caravan, in addition to the Kennett Square Police Department, which led the entourage. “It mushroomed,” quipped Borough Councilman Leon Spencer.

KAU, which stands for Kennett, Avondale, and Unionville, appreciated the effort.

“This is awesome!” exclaimed Kari Jarmuz, the mother of  Drew Jarmuz, who hit .588 in the series, and wife of Coach Chris Jarmuz, as she watched the spectators lining State Street.

“Look at all of these people,” said Coach Mike Pechin, shaking his head. “I can’t believe it.”

And some of them had waited for hours. The bus hit several traffic snarls and ended up pulling into the borough about two hours after the most optimistic ETA.

First-responders from the Kennett, Longwood, Avondale and Po-Mar-Lin Fire Companies gather to provide an escort for the KAU Kings.

First-responders from the Kennett, Longwood, Avondale and Po-Mar-Lin Fire Companies gather to provide an escort for the KAU Kings.

Once the bus arrived, the emergency vehicles revved into high gear and escorted the team down State Street to loud cheers from onlookers.  At Broad Street, the players and coaches disembarked, walking for a couple of blocks to shake hands and pose for quick photos from appreciative fans.

The convoy ended at the KAU field on Leslie Road, right off of Union Street, where the “Rocky” theme played as the players entered, and hundreds of fans eagerly awaited a short program that included words from Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick, the coaches, KAU President John Tucker, and even several of the players during a brief Q & A.

The coaches all said the players, each of whom stepped up and delivered when needed, inspired them. Their unity was especially evident after Eric Duerr was sidelined by a concussion after trying to stop a Panama player from scoring during the last game preceding the semi-finals.  Before he was rushed off the field by emergency personnel, Duerr was still clutching the ball.

Coach Mike Pechin said Duerr’s teammates were much more concerned about him than the fate of the team. “I get emotional just thinking about it,” said Pechin, the father of pitcher Alex Pechin.

KAU Coach Chris Jarmuz snaps a photo of the banner decorating the Kennett Fire Company truck.

KAU Coach Chris Jarmuz snaps a photo of the banner decorating the Kennett Fire Company truck.

Tucker said many of the players had been in the program since the age of 6 or 7 when they played t-ball.  “To bring them back here as national champions is amazing, “ he said.

Manager Duerr said that he remembered many of the players as 6-year-olds. “This has been a dream come true, I think, for everyone involved, either on or off the field.” He said many of the people he spoke with along the way refused to believe that such a talented group could come from one small area. He said they often asked:  “Are you sure you didn’t get them from other places?” His reply:  “Nope. They’re all home grown, every one of them.”

As the players were introduced, the crowd got some revealing insight. For example, many people in Maine thought Joe Zirolli was a ringer: Could a 16-year-old be that tall? They were equally perplexed that Jake Freedman could be so formidable, despite being the ninth batter in the rotation.

One of the biggest conundrums – the bold blue shorts sported by Alex Pechin – drew the most entertaining explanation.  On Saturday night, after the championship game was over, players from all of the teams ended up swapping clothes as remembrances. And Pechin exchanged some standard lacrosse shorts for a memorable, fashion-forward Italian pair, begging the question: Will he wear them to school?

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KAU coaches and players get back on the bus after walking a couple of blocks so they could interact with the fans that lined State Street.

Once the coaches finished their presentations, the audience got a chance to ask questions, such as what was your favorite game? “The ones we won,” said Tucker Reese. All 17? “Yes.” The hardest game? “It was definitely Panama,” said Zirolli. It was Panama that represented the team’s only loss in pool play, and Panama that edged past them 2-1 in the finals.

Manager Duerr was asked how many of the players could make it to the majors. “That’s a tough one, “ he said, citing the intense competition. Then he asked the players to raise their hand if they thought they qualified. Although a couple tried to force up the hands of others, none were waved.  “I think a couple have real potential,” Duerr said with a smile.

He said the team set a goal at the beginning of the season: to compete well at the Pennsylvania state tournament. “Well, the rest is history,” he said.

Coach Rob Jones, the father of pitcher Andrew Jones, said the group learned in Maine that 17,400 teams competed in the Senior League division.  That makes coming in second pretty darn impressive.

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