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A big moment for 'small town'

Little League success brings Saugus together

SAUGUS -- For the 12 years that Eddie Richard has been alive, his hometown, Saugus, has not exactly seemed like the world capital of coolness.

To the motorists who whoosh through on Route 1 at 50 miles per hour, Saugus's outstanding features are a corridor of pulsating neon, a scattering of no-tell motels, and a 45-foot model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. History buffs may boast about Saugus's 17th-century ironworks, but you can't stencil historic ironworks on your three-ring binder.

By the time Richard reached the sixth grade, he had begun to think seriously about how great it would be to be in California.

But all that changed when Eddie Richard and the whole town of Saugus were picked up by a wave of joy that reached a vertiginous climax Thursday night and tonight could take them still higher. Yesterday, for the third day in a row, Richard tied a piece of posterboard around his neck and logged three hours rollerblading on the streets of his hometown -- past Saugus Karate Kung Fu, past Coronet Cleaners and the White Hen Pantry -- expressing his devotion to Saugus American Little League.

For Saugus, it seems, the baseball triumphs are giving the town a new feeling.

"This is one of the best moments. It seems like everyone in the whole place is just getting along," said Richard, who estimates that more than 300 cars have honked at him since he began his celebratory patrol.

Route 1, which makes up Saugus's floodlit spine, has drawn streams of residents from all over town on game nights, where they pile into the warehouse-sized restaurants and cheer on the boys. They come from the old east side, where the now-famous Little League team hails from, and the tonier developments of the west side. Five hundred people gathered around televisions at Prince Pizzeria & Bar, 400 mobbed the upstairs at the Frank Guiffrida's Hilltop Steak House, and 200 watched at Kowloon restaurant. By the improbable end of the game, when Saugus rallied with four runs to beat Richmond, Texas, by a single run in extra innings, old ladies were hoarse.

"I almost had a heart attack," said Chris Moore, who is 12. "I ran outside my house and started yelling, `Honk for Saugus.' It was crazy. I almost died."

After the game, 2,000 honking, waving fans poured into the town's central square, said Saugus Police Lieutenant Mike Annese. Yesterday, in the crowd's wake, a bronze Union soldier was decorated with a baseball glove, a Little League poster and a jersey in team colors. The crowd's energy "burst" almost as soon as it gathered, Annese said.

"They were happy to the point where they wanted to be with someone other than themselves," he said.

Long ago, Saugus was a farm town bisected by a cowpath. Then the cowpath became Route 1 -- a pulsing four-lane juggernaut running south to Florida and north to Maine. North of Boston was its exuberant commercial apex, featuring not only the country's largest restaurants, which lined up in Saugus, but cheap motels, massage parlors, and strip clubs, such as the Golden Banana, which is across the town line in Peabody.

Somewhere along the line, said one Route 1 businessman, outsiders forgot there was a real town behind the neon arrows. In fact, Saugus's population prospered quietly off tax revenues from the thoroughfare's flashy businesses, he said.

"Saugus is a small town, with a small-town mentality, with a giant strip running right down the middle of it, which causes city-like problems," said Steven Castraberti, 49, whose father founded Prince Pizzeria. "I think people have the perception of Saugus as Route 1. It's a typical thing. Saugus gets made fun of once a year."

Danny Redden, 51, who drives a bus for Saugus's senior center, said natives gradually stop seeing the honky-tonk.

"We pretty much ignore it," Redden said. "There's no excitement to it. It's like if you live in California and go to Sunset Boulevard, it's just there." But the Little League victory could mark a turn in the perception of Saugus, driving home the town's family-oriented character, said Joseph Procopio, a longtime resident and a principal of Realty World/Forest Realty.

And Eddie Richard planned to return to the streets today with his rollerblades and his sign, "Go Saugus Little League," and wait for honks.

"It's probably going to catch on," he said. "You don't beep at a pole, you beep at a person."

Ellen Barry can be reached at barry@globe.com.

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