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PETALUMA - Maybe a year from now this will all make sense to them. Maybe. Might take 10 years. Might take longer. Who knows? On Sunday, adults scrambled to get autographs from 12- and 13-year old kids, and so when the natural order of the hero-seeking universe is reversed like that, no wonder the Petaluma Little Leaguers stood onstage at Walnut Park a bit dumbfounded -- as if they just been told they have been offered a ride on Air Force One. And the plane leaves in 10 minutes.

"It's overwhelming," said Eric Smith, and that's an adult speaking, the adult in charge in fact, the coach of Petaluma National, the third-best Little League team in the world. The kids just love to play baseball, Smith said, and it's no more complicated than that for them.

Yet at least 10,000 people in downtown Petaluma (that was Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey's guess) showed up for the parade and the speeches by the politicians and the Key to the City, and so it was no surprise when one of the players, Bradley Smith, said all that was cool and everything but he's totally OK and ready to enter the seventh grade.

Sorry, Bradley, people aren't willing to let you guys to slip into history just yet. Gym and club memberships have been offered to players, some to even family members as well. Local restaurants have given them vouchers for free meals. The guests of the Oakland A's on Friday night, the players have been assured they will be making more appearances at Minor League and Major League games, the Giants apparently a slam-dunk certainty. A list is being compiled of all the possibilities, a list so exhaustive that apparently a ride in Air Force One is the only activity not suggested. Apparently.

"I've been in Petaluma my whole life," said Wayne Douglas, 50, a machinist and father of Logan, "and I've never seen this city come together like this. I don't think it's sunk in for any of us."

The innocence, the charming, refreshing naivete, the kids who look like the ones you always wanted to live next door, that's what drew the crowd, the TV cameras, the newspaper

people Sunday to Walnut Park.

There was no hidden agenda here. No dark clouds of suspicion, like the kids juiced, or took under-the-table payments from some slick agents, or didn't have time to speak to

people, or were, simply, too stressed to even smile.

"As kids we always dreamed of playing in a World Series," said Dave Albee, an information officer with Dominican University. "This team was living out that dream and we so appreciate them taking us along for the ride."

It's been awhile since we have seen Americana, hasn't it? The kids wouldn't know Norman Rockwell from Paranorman, but this is what they gave us Sunday, and one day they'll understand why it was so important. Mom and dad and grandpa and grandma will sit them down and say thank you for stopping our spinning, whirling world of texting and instant everything. We went back in time with these guys and stayed there for 23 days.

When Aw Shucks was how they acted, like Bradley Smith, and Aw Shucks is how we responded, like Brandt Giacomini.

Sitting on the sidewalk along Kentucky Street, Giacomini, 8, held up a sign: "My Name: Brandt. My Position: First base. My Favorite Player: Bradley Smith." Asked why, Giacomini said, "He hits home runs." It doesn't have to be any more complicated than that, but unfortunately we know it is.

Remember that old bromide about baseball: It's a kid's game ruined by the adults? Well, the Petaluma Nationals showed the adults everywhere how not to ruin it. Play smart. Be respectful. Leave your ego in your locker. Play for your teammate as much as yourself. It was a beautiful thing, what they did, how they did it, because it was pure of intent. And confusing.

We taught the adults? Am I going to slip into temptation? Why is it so difficult to hit the cutoff man or move the runner to third? Why do players make the game so hard? Why are 10,000 people out to see me? How did I come to represent Petaluma? Is this like some political office? What am I going to do with all those meal vouchers? Am I gonna get fat? Jonny Gomes is applauding me; shouldn't I be applauding him?

Hey, I'm only 12. This is a little overwhelming. I just want to play baseball. What do I do?

Enjoy the ride, guys.

You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or bob.padecky@pressdemocrat.com.