CITRUS PARK — About 2:30 p.m. Monday, the Citrus Park Little League All-Stars will step off a Continental Airlines flight.
A first-class motor coach provided by Pepin Distribution Co. will pick them up and carry them to a surprise celebration at Wild Wing Cafe on Anderson Road, where fans who couldn't make the trip to the Little League World Series have gathered during the last week to root for the hometown team.
"We're going to treat them a little bit like rock stars," said Matt Ross, owner and general manager of the restaurant, who was still working out details on Friday.
It's the least Ross said the family-owned business can do for the 12- and 13-year-old boys, who he described as "ambassadors for Tampa."
They sacrificed summer breaks and missed first days of school for a chance to represent this sleepy northwest Hillsborough community on a world stage. Not since 1989 had the Tampa area sent a team to the Little League World Series.
"Just being in Williamsport is tremendous," said Greg Sinadinos, the district administrator for Little League Florida District 6, which includes Citrus Park. "Actually having a team here is surreal. Watching these kids succeed is what Little League is all about."
Citrus Park fell just short of the U.S. championship on Thursday in a 6-1 loss to Louisiana. There was some disappointment, but no hung heads or tears, said Stephanie Gilcrease, mother of centerfielder and pitcher Levi Gilcrease.
"I saw a lot of smiles," she said Friday. "They were proud of what they did."
And so were folks back home in Citrus Park.
On game nights, fans decked out in Citrus Park green and gold paraphernalia packed Wild Wing, which had 17 flat- and big-screen television sets tuned to Thursday's nationally televised semifinal matchup.
During commercial breaks, David Hubbell and others would lead the crowd in repetitious chants.
"Who are we," he'd shout.
"CP," they'd respond.
"These boys have done so much for the community and brought our community out in front of everybody," said Hubbell, the executive vice president of Citrus Park Little League. "Citrus Park has been around since 1963. This is the first time Citrus Park has sent a team to Williamsport for the World Series, so there is a sense of pride."
While nothing has been confirmed, Mayor Pam Iorio's office said it plans to invite team's players and coaches to City Hall, where Iorio will present them with letters of recognition.
"The biggest thing in Citrus Park is the mall," said Rolando Lastra, uncle of first baseman Danny Lastra. "Now it's the Little League team."
Times staff writer Bryan Burns contributed to this report. Rodney Thrash can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 269-5303.