The tiny hometown newspaper sends a reporter and a photographer halfway across the country to cover their feats. Fire engines, emergency strobes stabbing the dead of night, meet their chartered bus at the city limits and escort them to an impromptu rally.
Banners proclaim ``Welcome Home! And ``Go North!'' Broadcast reporters fan out, buttonholing the young heroes for a sound bite and 15 seconds of fame.
The major-league homecoming was for the best girls little league team in Texas. A team that just happened to be sponsored by a tire dealer.
Rick Pilger, a second-generation tire guy, manages the players and moonlights as practice catcher for daughter Liz, the team's pitcher. ``She has to pitch to somebody,'' Mr. Pilger explained. ``Every hour she spends pitching, I spend sitting on the bucket and catching.''
The Bryan North girls' ride started on the diamonds of Bryan-College Station, an hour northwest of Houston. The softball team won district, sectional and state titles before becoming only the third team, boys or girls, from the area to make it to the regional playoffs, held this year in Albuquerque, N.M.
Liz Pilger, who started playing T-ball when she was 8, said her dad's behind her ``every step of the way. Even when I don't want to practice, he always gets me to do it. And I really, really appreciate it. I never would have been able to pitch without his help.''
She posted a 4-0 record in the regional championships, helping the team edge Grand Mesa (Colo.) 3-2. The girls soon found themselves on a plane bound for the softball World Series in Kirkland, Wash., just outside of Seattle.
``Obviously we were a competitive team and wanted to win, but just being there was such an accomplishment that whatever else happened was OK,'' said Mr. Pilger. ``The girls and the coaches from each team were great...It was amazing how the community back at home came together. The local radio station carried a live broadcast of all our games at the series, including the 16-inning marathon against Canada.''
Pilger's Tire Auto & Muffler Center has tried to be involved in all the little leagues since Mr. Pilger's parents, Ed and Doris, opened shop in 1975. All four of Rick Pilger's daughters have played softball but this season was ``a chance of a lifetime.''
The ride came to an end Aug. 16 when Latin America scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning to seal a 3-2 victory. ``When they came off the field they had tears in their eyes. They felt pretty dejected,'' Mr. Pilger said. ``But within a couple of hours they were on a practice field playing Hacky Sack with some other girls.
``Once they got back home, they began realizing what kind of an impact they made.''
The girls and their parents took home not just memories of having fish hurled over the team at Seattle's famous Pike Place Market-not to mention a break from the brutal Texas summer-but some life lessons.
As another Texan and former player himself, George W. Bush, said last year at a Little League championship game, little league teaches ``the value of good, clean competition; the values of teamwork; the values of working with somebody for something greater than yourself.''
As for Mr. Pilger, the team's road trip was his first-ever long ``vacation.''
``For the first time in 25 years, I was away from the store two weeks,'' he said, chuckling. ``And it was here when I got back!''