CHOWCHILLA – Lemoore Little League coach Brady Holaday stood along the left field line as his players filed out of the dugout painted in frustration following a 7-6 loss.
Holaday was biting his lower lip as well, talking to his coaches and wearing the type of wry smile coaches flash when they know their teams have let one slip away.
But this was only Lemoore’s first loss of the NorCal Division II Tournament. It was, in fact, the Intermediate team’s first loss period since its All-Star postseason began. And because Little League will forever be about enforcing the positives, Holaday had his silver lining ready.
“We knew that (first loss) was going to happen eventually,” he said. “We’re not stupid. We’ll come back tomorrow and be stronger.”
They were indeed.
Despite trailing Granada Little League 9-5 and being down to their last three outs, Lemoore scored seven runs in the top of the seventh and won 12-10.
That July 12 night, Holaday, his 11 players, and a throng of supporters left the tournament site of Chowchilla and made the 70-minute drive back to Lemoore.
But on July 29, the team of mostly 13-year-olds – along with potentially the entire population of Lemoore – hopes to be traveling to the same town it sent Granada home to: Livermore, the host city for the first Little League Intermediate 50/70 International World Series.
Taming the West
If Lemoore Little League is to get to that point, it would need to win the Western Region Championships in Irvine, taking place July 19-26.
The West representative would join four other regional champions, four international champions and a host team from District 57 at Max Baer Field for the first Intermediate World Series games on July 30.
“That’s their dream,” Holaday said. “It’s the same one they’ve had since they all started playing together at 9 years-old. Their dream is to play in a Little League World Series.”
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Whether it was Dave Wetmore’s dream to host and direct a Little League World Series is unclear, but he’d certainly put his research in.
“I’ve been around Little League baseball for more than 25 years,” said Wetmore, who has been the California District 57 Administrator for the past 11 years. “I’ve attended several Little League World Series for other age groups. But it’s a big difference between attending and hosting.”
Wetmore was given the opportunity to find out firsthand when the Little League International Board of Directors selected Livermore – over Chicago and Vancouver – as the first World Series site for its brand new Intermediate 50/70 Division.
The Intermediate 50/70 Division was instituted for 2013 after a three-year pilot program was completed in an attempt to develop a transitional league from Majors.
The showcase division featuring 11-12 year-olds playing on field dimensions of 46 feet from pitching mound to plate and 60-foot base paths – to Juniors, which is for 13-14 year-olds who play on high school fields (60-foot mound distance and 90-foot base paths).
The Intermediate Division is offered to 11-13 year-olds with field dimensions of 50 feet from mound to plate and 70 feet between the bases.
It also features an expanded set of rules which allows for a closer facsimile to high school baseball.
“I think it’s outstanding that they finally went to this,” Holaday said. “It’s a stepping stone for 60/90. For a lot of the kids, it’s kind of 50-50.
Half can make that jump but the other half can’t.
There’s a lot of kids who once 46/60 is done and 50/70 is done, the game is too big and too fast for them.
This kind of keeps an avenue open for some of these kids.”
Wetmore, whose District 57 took part in the pilot program, has had an extended view of the success of the new division.
“Now that it’s a full-phase division, you see kids who want to stick around,” Wetmore said. “I think that No. 1, in the long term, it will become a retainer to keep 13-year-olds in the Little League program.
For parents, it can also be a huge gain in expense, too, as travel ball programs (which have tournaments with 50/70 options) can be very expensive. I just think the pluses far outweigh any of the first-year hurdles that we’ve had.”
The hurdle most often mentioned is facilities…
and finding fields that can be easily converted to the new dimensions.
That obviously won’t be a problem in Livermore as the District is already near completion on a $50K renovation of Max Baer Park, a makeover that will be ready for live ESPN and SportStars media coverage of the World Series.
The changes that have been made include adding a grass infield, building a two-story press box, and the plan to bring in as much seating as possible.
The field will be ready. Will Livermore be?
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Livermore is no stranger to playing host to big events. It is an annual stop on the AmGen Tour of California bike race, and The Course at Wente Vineyards has hosted lower-level PGA Tour events.
This will be different, though. In a good way, according to Wetmore.
“I’m not sure if the residents and business owners have quite realized the impact that this event has,” he said. “The AmGen riders are world-class athletes who are likely staying in San Francisco, being bussed out, someone is holding their bike and they get on and leave. These are Little League kids and families of 10 teams who are going to be staying in Livermore, eating pizza, drinking soda, being kids.”
Wetmore and his committee are doing their best to prepare businesses for the fact that there may be more than just a few players and parents. For instance, it didn’t take much to get Holaday theorizing on the type of support that would follow Lemoore to Livermore if the team made it that far.
“They’d have to shut (the town) down,” the coach said. “There would literally be storefront windows with signs saying “˜Headed North’. It wouldn’t take much. It’d be fun.”
Livermore or Bust
Nine teams will be making Livermore their home away from home: representatives of the East, Central, Southwest, Southeast and West Regions, as well as international teams from Japan, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Canada. The 10th team belongs to District 57. Pleasanton National gained an automatic “Host Team” berth by winning the Dist. 57 Tournament.
Pleasanton defeated the same Granada team that Lemoore finally vanquished in Chowchilla. Despite the inspired run by the Livermore team, its exit allowed Wetmore to exhale just a touch.
“If two District 57 teams had ended up in this thing for some reason, my counterparts would have probably had some questions for me.”
INTERMEDIATE DIVISION BASICS
“¢ AGE GROUP: 11-13, though restrictions can be implemented at the district level to make it 11-13, 12-13, 12-only or 13-only.
“¢ MOUND DISTANCE FROM PLATE: 50 feet
“¢ DISTANCE BETWEEN BASES: 70 feet
“¢ FENCE DISTANCE: 200 feet minimum for regular season; 225 minimum for tournament.
“¢ REGULATION GAME: 7 innings
“¢ PITCH COUNT RESTRICTIONS (SINGLE GAME): 95 for 13-year olds; 85 for 11-12-year olds.
“¢ GAME PARTICIPATION: Every rostered player must be in the game for at least one at bat and six defensive outs.
“¢ NOTABLE RULE DIFFERENCE FROM MAJORS: Base runners may lead off.