In the heart of the city that has the state's highest unemployment rate and has been saddled with a financially distressed tag for more than two decades, Vice President Joe Biden addressed thousands at the Independence Day celebration at Courthouse Square in Scranton on Wednesday.

"You don't judge someone by how they are knocked down," he told the cheering crowd. "You judge them by how they get up."

With Election Day four months away, Biden sought to reinforce his blue-collar bona fides in the town he said made him the man and politician he is today. Biden's visit combined politics and nostalgia, from visiting the home of friends and political allies and meeting with Little Leaguers in the park where he once played, to huddling with labor leaders about the election.

After touching down at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport under sunny skies and striding off Air Force Two by himself at 4:18 p.m., Biden, dressed in light chinos and a blue and white striped long-sleeved shirt, was greeted first U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

"You know the only reason why I left Scranton?" he said, pointing to Casey. " I wanted to get into this business and I lived three blocks away from this guy's father, and I knew only one of us was going to make it." Biden said referring to Casey's father, former Gov. Robert P. Casey, foreshadowing a visit on his itinerary.

Casey and Biden posed arm in arm for photographers, "like fraternity brothers," Casey joked.

They got into the motorcade and headed off for a private meeting with labor leaders at United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1776 in Pittston Twp. They met for 40 minutes, and the motorcade headed north to Scranton. Union leaders stood along Route 315 waving as the vehicles pulled out.

While he lived in the Electric City for only the first 10 years of his life, Biden insists Scranton left an indelible impression on him, helping shape his working-class politics.

Biden and Casey visited the Scranton home of Casey's mother, Ellen, former first lady of Pennsylvania. Biden was accompanied by his sister, Valerie Biden Owens, and his son, Beau Biden, the attorney general of Delaware.

The two families went inside and when they later emerged Biden smiled and waved to a gathered crowd, saying, "Hi guys!" Biden hugged and kissed Ellen Casey and declared her "one of the best ladies, period."

Biden next visited a fixture of his childhood, the Green Ridge Little League Field, where he met with the Green Ridge All-Star team. Surrounded in the black and green of the team uniforms, he told the ballplayers about his history on their field.

"I'm so old, I played in the first game ever played on this field," he said, admitting he spent that game on the bench. "I didn't actually play, but I was still here." Eventually, he did play. Biden told the young players how he started out as a shortstop but in high school became a center fielder.

The children gave the vice president a baseball signed by the team. Biden gushed at the gesture.

He promised he would display it on a bookshelf in the vice president's office.

"When you guys come down to visit, I'll show it to you," he said. In the meantime, he said his staff would send team members a photo of the ball in its place.

The smells of french fries and hot dogs in the air, Biden signed balls and T-shirts of the players, wishing them a great game.

Gary Knight, assistant coach of the Green Ridge all-stars, called the experience unforgettable.

"It means a lot to them to see the vice president at their home ballfield, the same field that he played on as a child," Knight said. "This is a moment they will remember for the rest of their lives."

Meanwhile, thousands gathered on Courthouse Square in Scranton, passing through security screenings and bag searches. The Northeast Pennsylvania Philharmonic tuned their instruments.

After a welcome from Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and a gushing introduction from Commissioner Corey O'Brien, Biden took the stage and gave a speech extolling his hometown and its current citizens while striking patriotic notes.

"You are the grit, the sinew, the soul of what freedom is about," he said. Gesturing to the memorials on the square he acknowledged the patriots who came from the valley. Absent from his speech was any reference to the campaign or partisan politics. That suited Robin Lively of Stroudsburg just fine.

"I think it's great he kept it neutral and nonpartisan," she said. "The Fourth of July is for everyone."

Biden concluded with "I love you, God bless you all!" As the philharmonic began playing, Biden wasted no time, descending the bandstand and working the barriers, shaking hands or hugging everyone within reach. With the music of Aaron Copeland and John Philip Sousa behind him, he passed attendees' camera back to an aide, who took pictures of Biden, smiling ear to ear, with supporters. At the start of the National Anthem, however, he stopped and faced the stage.

Biden's family and close friends congregated in a secure spot to the south of the federal courthouse to watch the fireworks. Plans changed, however, and Biden and his entourage were called away and headed back to Air Force Two before the fireworks began.

Contact the writer: dfalchek@timesshamrock.com