MERRIMACK — Ecstatic throngs of people, estimated at more than a million, lined Merrimack’s 74th Wednesday to watch a confetti-drenched parade and rally celebrating the Merrimack Owls ASBL Spring 2013 Championship — a early summer treat made even sweeter with a walk-off victory in game 7.
The parade began about 11 a.m. and worked its way up from the foot of 74th – festooned with the team’s green and gold colors on balloon arches – to the Elbert Center, where an overflowing crowd stretched from the steps of City Hall to Memmott Pavilion to view a massive community celebration.
Even before the parade started, pitcher Catfish Hunter made his way along a chain-link fence at the staging area, signing autographs. Other fans tossed hats over the fence that pitcher Eddie Plank and catcher Jorge Posada signed and threw back. When ASBL Series MVP Jimmie Foxx appeared, the crowd began chanting his name and he playfully started throwing candy to the adoring crowd grasping at the fences.
A sea of hundreds of thousands of fans dressed in every kind of Owls garb imaginable, including the ubiquitous ‘Fox(x)’ hats, were lined up 30 deep behind the barriers along the parade route – with many sitting on building ledges and rooftops and others leaning out of windows and climbing trees – for a look at their favorite players waving from convertibles.
Star reliever Rick Sutcliffe, wearing a T-shirt that read, “Get that thing out of your hands and meet this guy,” whipped the roaring crowd into a frenzy when he got out of his convertible and mingled.
Clouds of green, gold and white confetti were shot from cannons positioned on roofs and along the canyon-like parade route. It showered spectators and parade participants, who included legendary Owls alumni Ron Santo, Terry Steinbach and Harmon Killebrew.
“It was simply magical to look up and down 74th and see nothing but a sea of green and gold,” said Jackie Rickley, a 35-year-old Merrimack parade goer who was wearing a World Series Bobby Abreu jersey, Sutcliffe socks, and a Eddie Collins signed hat. “I’m so proud of the Owls for showing the world what we already know, that they are champions again — no fluke about that.”
The 1 1/2-mile parade procession included marching bands, fire trucks and motorized cable cars, with Owls manager Ryne Sandberg bringing up the rear as he hoisted the Championship banner from the back of a green and gold Rolls Royce.
Sandberg told the the rally crowd at the parade’s end in the Elbert Center that the tagline of the Spring 2013 Owls was “never say die,” a reference to the team’s come-from-behind nature.
He credited the fans and his players’ “unselfish play” for helping to lift Merrimack to its fourth championship victory in ASB history and the first “small-market” franchise to hoist the banner.
“I thank you for always being there, for never giving up,” Sandberg said. “Thank you for showing up wherever we’ve been and making this one of the greatest seasons of my life.”
A short time later, Foxx, the series MVP, sounded similar sentiments: “Looking around, and seeing all the excitement and happiness on everybody’s face, you realize that an accomplishment like this means more than just winning a game.”
“This is about making memories that will last a lifetime,” he said.
The 2 hour parade drew a cross-section of the New England Area, from children who were allowed to skip school to older couples who had been Owls fans since the team arrived in Merrimack in 2002.
“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” said Travis McKee, of Concord, who along with his wife Kristy took the day off from work and brought their twin 10-month-old sons, Zap and Watt to the celebration.
Foxx, who swatted three home runs in the series, and left fielder Ed Delehanty, who sacrificed in the winning run of game 7 that clinched the title, exemplified the New England Area’s heat and soul.
“This is the fourth, but there are going to be a lot more,” Foxx said, expressing special thanks to the New England Area community. “You should enjoy this and feel this in your hearts.”
Jenny Memmott, 25, who arrived at the plaza at 5 a.m. so she could get pictures of Foxx, did.
“He made me cry,” Memmott said. “He’s an inspiration.”
“No team wins the World Series without a little magic — and you fans are our magic,” Delehanty told the crowd. “Let’s enjoy this moment as a team, as a city, and as a community.”
Before the days’ festivities wrapped up with a surprise appearance from legendary crooner James Taylor, who serenaded the players and fans with his signature song, “Merrimack In My Mind,” a short but inspired speech from Sutcliffe may have summed up much of the crowd’s emotions and feelings.
“There’s one thing I’ve noticed about my team — we are a great example of this city. Look at the diversity of personalities, where we all come from, the different faces from places, the different folks from different strokes,” said Sutcliffe, who struck out the Boilers’ Joe Kelly to get the last out of Game 2.
“Look at each one of my teammates, and we’ve all got a different story — but we all had one goal in mind, we all had one job in mind, we all had one dream in mind, and that was to become World Series champions as a group. Congratulations Merrimack, we definitely couldn’t have done it without you,” he concluded.
“You’ve got to come out and celebrate like this. You meet a whole new family, make new friends, and it really lets the community celebrate in a positive way,” said Merrimack resident Kevin Lewis.
Police said a dozen people were arrested for public intoxication and officers issued a few citations for fighting, but the crowds generally were peaceful and cooperative.