ALBANY, Ga. -- The addition of hometown-hero World Series champion Buster Posey to the 22nd Annual Leesburg Spirit of Christmas Parade gave Santa a challenge for popularity.
In a non-scientific poll before and during the parade it seemed that many more children were interested in seeing the Giants catcher than the jolly old man from the North Pole.
"I like Buster and Santa," said 7-year-old Joshua-Valdez. "But if Buster Posey wasn't grand marshal I don't know if I'd be here."
Posey's hometown and Lee County honored him as a champion and as National League Rookie of the Year with a key to the city from Mayor Jim Quinn and a Lee County Commission proclamation.
A proclamation read by Commission Chairman Ed Duffy cited Posey's influence on Lee County youth with "his athletic accomplishments but even more so with his positive outlook and his ability ... eagerness to conquer the next challenge."
Posey for his part thanked the community for their support and fine welcome home. He tried at the very least shake hands with people who began crowding in to see him.
He reached over, smiled and shook hands with Giants cap wearing Trip Block, 18, who uses a wheelchair.
Afterward Block said, "I'm an Atlanta (Braves) fan, but I'm a bigger Buster Posey fan."
Veteran parade watchers called this year's parade the largest ever. It was estimated that 2,000 people lined the route last year.
The consensus among boys was that they wanted to see their baseball hero. Girls were interested in Santa.
"It is wonderful to see Santa," said Zoe Grimsley, 12. "He helps keep Christ in Christmas."
Many of the parade participants, whether riding in Chevy Corvettes, on floats or strolling the mile-long route gave candy to children lining the street.
Children gathered the candy into plastic bags that featured a "Say No to Drugs" message. About a pound of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, red and white peppermint and chocolate bars delighted 1-year-old Anzlee Williams.
To the pleasure of many on the parade route the Christmas Festival time changed from last year. This year it went on immediately after the parade.
The festival featured jumping inflatable bouncy houses, food and music. A variety of arts, crafts and collectables were also available for browsers.
Hoping to attract donations from passersby at the festival so that her Darton College class could make a dance-theater trip to New York City, ballet dancer Ann Cheek, 19, pirouetted and laughed.
"We had a wonderful time in the parade," Cheeks said. "We did a little hip-hop and jazzy dance not ballet."
From baseball to ballet, Santa had to be pleased with his welcome.