Oh, ok. This is a WORLD SERIES!
It’s a mid-July evening in Pleasanton, and while a handful of Intermediate Little League teams go over their travel itinerary for their trip to the Western Regionals Tournament in Irvine “the last step to reaching the World Series” a baker’s dozen worth of 13-year-olds from Pleasanton National hold another practice.
While the aforementioned Western Regionals attendees have been battling their way through Section and Division tournaments the past three weeks, Pleasanton National has just kept on practicing.
It’s known since June 22 that it’s going to be participating in the Intermediate Little League World Series as the District 57 Host Team.
That doesn’t mean the gravity of the opportunity has truly sunk in yet.
“They couldn’t believe that they just get to go and play in this thing,” Pleasanton National coach Dave Lander said. “I don’t think they really realized the magnitude of it until recently when they were like “Oh, ok. This is a WORLD SERIES.'”
The first World Series for Little League’s new Intermediate 50/70 Division is being hosted at Max Baer Park in Livermore, a mere seven miles away from their home turf. Opening Ceremonies begin July 29 and games start on July 30.
“Not very many teams get to do this very often,” Pleasanton third baseman Jimmy Kaufman said.
“I’m really excited to have a chance to represent Northern California and the Bay Area. But it probably won’t sink in really until the (opening ceremonies) parade downtown the night before.”
Exactly how did this once in a lifetime opportunity befall Pleasanton National?
Well it started when Livermore and Little League District 57 was given the hosting rights over other finalists, Chicago and Vancouver. The host district is allowed to field its own team, which is decided by the district’s all-star tournament.
Pleasanton went 4-0 in the tournament, winning three of the games including the final by six runs or more.
They defeated Livermore 10-2 in the opener and Granada 12-3 in the quarterfinals. Danville played them the toughest in the tournament, losing 6-3 in the semifinals.
In the championship, Granada came back from the loser’s bracket but could do little to change its fortune as Pleasanton rolled to a 9-3 win and stamp its ticket to the big dance.
“We probably played them 6-7 times this year and only beat them twice,” Granada coach Matt Walker said of Pleasanton National. “They’re a good team.”
Granada was given a chance to still qualify for the World Series through the other tournaments, and reached the final of the NorCal Division II Tournament before Lemoore ousted them to advance to Western Regions.
NO EXTRA INSPIRATION NEEDED
“Seeing Granada’s run definitely gave us a pretty good gauge for where we’re at,” Lander said. “We were hoping they might make it all the way back.”
Pleasanton’s core starts with 6-foot-2 right-handed ace Evan Wolfe. Lander has been coaching him for three years and says he’s really developed into a strong pitcher over the past year. All of the Pleasanton pitchers have benefitted this season from the presence of pitching coach Eddie Delzer, a member of the 1984 Cal State Fullerton team which won the College World Series.
Behind Wolfe is a sound defense anchored up the middle by shortstop Cal O’Loughlin, second baseman Max Heverly and centerfielder Quinn Brinnon.
“O’Loughlin could pretty much play anywhere on the field we needed him to,” Lander said of his shortstop, one of two Pleasanton players headed to Amador Valley High in the fall. “But he really steadies us at shortstop. Heverly is a solid second baseman and our leadoff hitter, and Brinnon has probably been the best outfielder in the league since he was 8.”
Other key players include Mitch Benson, typically the starting catcher as well as one of the team’s pitchers behind Wolfe.
Kaufman plays third base and catches while also providing a big RBI bat in the cleanup position. Kaufman is joined in the middle of the lineup by first baseman Trevor Wallace. Wallace, a left hander, is also part of the team’s pitching staff.
The rest of the roster includes Nate Lau, Max Lander, Drew McGinty, Drew Kobayashi, Trevor Burgmann and Nick Orecchia.
“Chemisty will be the key for us,” Benson said. “We’ll have to be good at our small ball and just playing together as a team. We need to come up big in big situations.”
The situations won’t come much bigger than the World Series. But it’s worth betting that a hometown fan base will play a factor too.
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