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Mountain Ridge players parade on the Strip

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman temporarily cut short a San Diego vacation to hand the Mountain Ridge Little League kids the keys to the city on the steps of City Hall before a parade down the Strip on Saturday morning.

Had she announced the city was planning to build a new downtown Little League stadium with public money, I’m fairly certain she would have gotten the necessary votes. With or without a dome.

A week after advancing to U.S. championship game after becoming the first team from Las Vegas to qualify for the Little League World Series, the Mountain Ridge kids still are pretty popular around these parts.

Hundreds showed up at City Hall to hear Mayor Goodman speak of hard work, sportsmanship and making the city proud.

Hundreds cheered and shouted “Woo-hoo!”

Parents snapped pictures on cellphones; grandparents tried to figure out how to shoot video.

The Mountain Ridge players smiled bashfully and squinted into the morning sun. Only one or two looked like they’d rather be home playing video games.

Almost of their caps looked two sizes too large.

Before the 25-minute ceremony preceding the parade, Mayor Goodman was spotted embracing Councilman Steve Ross of Ward 6, the Mountain Ridge ward.

“Is this awesome?” she said. “Every day should be like this.”

It was neat to see such sincerity among the politicians before the TV cameras started rolling.

The wax statue of Babe Ruth from Madame Tussauds apparently never arrived, but the Bambino’s absence was offset by the presence of a surprise guest.

Jerry Tarkanian and his wife, Lois, councilwoman, Ward 1, had heard Mountain Ridge coach Ashton Cave was a big fan of the Rebels basketball team growing up. When Tark’s guys won the national championship in 1990, the story goes that young Ashton Cave excitedly ran from the house to celebrate.

He didn’t shout “Duke sucks,” because the Mountain Ridge skipper has far too much class to shout that. He did, however, fall and chip a tooth.

Tark and Lois presented Cave, who was 12 when UNLV won it all, with a commemorative game ball signed by the Rebels.

The Mountain Ridge kids, who were minus 11 and minus 12 when the Rebels cut down the nets in Denver, excitedly examined the basketball. They were careful not to smudge Larry Johnson’s signature, even if they hadn’t heard of him.

Lois Tarkanian said the Mountain Ridge kids reminded her more of the 1977 UNLV team, the “Hardway Eight.”

UNLV never had been to the Final Four before Reggie Theus and “Gondo” Gondrezick and those guys, just as a Las Vegas team never had been to the Little League World Series before Austin Kryszczuk, Brennan Holligan and the Mountain Ridge kids.

“Nobody expected that team to go as far as they did, either,” Lois Tarkanian said. “You have opened the way for all the teams that will follow.”

When it came time for the 36-year-old Cave to speak, the former Cimarron Memorial utility man and current Clark County firefighter read from a prepared statement. But he read with emotion.

“Developing individual players is a tremendously worthy endeavor,” he said with a halting voice. “It empowers our young people to claim their inheritance and boldly affect the environment in ways that lead to a brighter day.

“To a coach, that result is priceless.”

He said he took those words from a book called “Practice Perfect Baseball” which, it can be assumed, is what the Mountain Ridge kids did in getting as far as they did.

“What a tremendous ride. What a tremendous experience,” Cave said before turning over the microphone to Drew Laspaluto, the team’s second baseman who stands 4 feet 7 inches and weighs about 80 pounds with a weighted doughnut in his uniform pocket.

The little guy, who smacked a 3-run double to give Mountain Ridge the early lead in the U.S. championship game against a team from Chicago, had to stand on an abutment to reach the microphone.

“I’m just happy to have had this experience, even though we lost,” he said.

It was the only time anybody mentioned the L-word.

The players soon made their way to a double-decker sightseeing bus, where they would ride down the Strip to Town Square.

Mayor Goodman had promised the Mountain Ridge kids they would see their names up in lights, like Dean and Sammy, even if they were no more familiar with Dean and Sammy than they were Larry Johnson.

The police motorcade rumbled to life. The Mountain Ridge kids up on the second deck of the sightseeing bus smiled bashfully and waved to their parents, and to their parents’ cellphones. Their grandparents still were fiddling with the video controls.

Mayor Goodman got into a waiting car that would take her to the airport so she could resume her vacation. The A.C. already was running.

The sightseeing bus began to roll. There was no A.C. on the second deck, but the Mountain Ridge kids looked happy. They didn’t seem like 12- and 13-year-old rock stars then. They seemed like 12- and 13-year-old kids with big caps.

They waved to the crowd.

The crowd waved back.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski

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