LIVERMORE -- The national anthems of Ecuador and Puerto Rico filled the warm air, players exchanged gifts on the newly manicured field of Max Baer Park in an expression of international goodwill, and then it was time to play ball in Livermore.
Tuesday's opener between Latin America and Puerto Rico was the first of what will be many baseball games played during the eight-day Little League Intermediate (50/70) World Series, the first-ever tournament of its kind. The division allows boys ages 11 to 13 the opportunity to prepare for high school baseball by playing games on a diamond that is larger than traditional Little League fields.
Waving flags and chanting "Arriba, arriba, Ecuador!" families of the boys in green and gold from the large city of Guayaquil, Ecuador, made their support loud and clear.
Patricia Bohrer, of Guayaquil, made the nine-hour flight first to Miami, and then to the Bay Area, to watch her son Christopher pitch in the tournament. Her son, she said, has dreams of making the big leagues.
"His life is baseball," she said. "He says, 'Mama, I want to play baseball in a stadium with a lot of people.'"
Bohrer, who was visiting the area for the first time, was more than a little impressed by the tournament's host city.
"It's beautiful, very beautiful," she said. "The downtown is like Disney World, and the people here are very kind."
Likewise, on the other side of the backstop, the Puerto Rican fans cheered wildly and sang as their team clad in orange took a 4-1 lead in the third inning.
"It's something really special for us," said Fernando Camacho, of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, as he yelled encouragement to his son Fernando Jr. "We really like the way we've been treated. Livermore is really nice ... It's a really nice, clean city."
The smell of barbecued tri-tip and freshly mowed grass greeted more than 600 attendees for the opening game. The showing had tournament director Dave Wetmore feeling optimistic about the evening's game featuring the Pleasanton National team.
"It's a great turnout for a first game; it's been a festive, beautiful day," Wetmore said. "I think we're going to pack this place tonight."
The family-friendly atmosphere included a batting clinic by former Major League Baseball player Gregg Jefferies. Kelly Hankins, of Livermore, attended with her son Andy, 10.
"I think it's a good experience for my son to see what the World Series is like and see these kids from all these other countries," Hankins said. "It's a big deal for Livermore, so we want to support it."
Livermore Area Recreation and Park District division manager Jim Carlson said he was impressed to see so many families and youth from local little leagues. He added the international teams looked relaxed, given the spotlight on them.
"The environment is really friendly," Carlson said. "For a highly competitive event, people are bringing the right demeanor."
As teams from Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Texas looked on from beyond the outfield wall, Puerto Rico held off a late rally from Latin America to win the series opener 7-3. After the game, Puerto Rico manager Luis Davila was all smiles.
"It was just marvelous," Davila said through an interpreter. "I felt blessed ... This is awesome."
Even so, Davila said, the trip was "all business." He was flanked by his winning pitchers Steven Davila and reliever Fernando Camacho -- who were thrilled to be signing autographs and being treated "like famous people."
"For them it's like opening a road further for other players," the coach said. "For a little town like where they're from (Yabucoa), to be here representing Puerto Rico is a dream come true."
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.