LIVERMORE -- It's been said that baseball, with its rich history of lovable losers, is designed to break a fan's heart. Despite that, millions keep returning to this simple, American-born game with the hope that a boy's dream can come true anytime, on any diamond, in any town.
Evan Wolfe was that boy Tuesday night, as the lanky 13-year-old pitched a perfect game to lead Pleasanton National to victory in its first contest in the Intermediate Little League World Series. After striking out the final batter, Wolfe dropped his glove, raised his arms in triumph, and was mobbed by his joyous teammates. The crowd of 3,100 that packed Livermore's Max Baer Park roared in support.
"Evan is an unbelievable pitcher who rarely has an off day," said Dave Lander, the team's head coach. "It's just a thrill to be a part of it with him."
Wolfe retired all 15 batters he faced from the Michigan-based Georgetown squad. He did it by mixing an icy on-field demeanor with an arsenal of barely hittable pitches a big-leaguer would envy: fastballs, curveballs, sliders and change-ups.
"I had a great defense playing behind me," said Wolfe, allowing himself a brief smile. "All my teammates were pumped for playing in our first game of the World Series."
Paced by Wolfe's arm, Pleasanton National won by a score of 12-0, notching most of its runs with aggressive base running and timely hitting, including Mitch Benson's towering home run to left field. Little League games are scheduled to last seven innings, but the "mercy rule," which ends games after five innings if a team is leading by 10 runs or more, ended Tuesday night's contest early.
The game concluded the first day of this inaugural international tournament, which includes youth teams from Canada, Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Japan, as well as squads from Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Arizona.
The Livermore tournament is one of several Little League World Series competitions, but it is the first and only to be held in California. The Intermediate World Series differs from the traditional Little League championships held each year in Williamsport, Pa., in that the basepaths and pitchers' mounds are set 10 feet farther back in Livermore's competition.
Pleasanton National earned the tournament's home berth by winning the Tri-Valley's District 57 championship. The team was scheduled next to play Arizona's team, Nogales National, at 6 p.m. Wednesday. ESPN is scheduled to nationally televise the tournament's championship game at 4 p.m. Monday.
Tournament organizers have sought to make the tournament entertaining and family-friendly. Admission is free; the first pitch was thrown by Hall of Fame hurler Tom "Terrific" Seaver; and the 4th inning did not begin until the game's grizzled umpires entertained the crowd by dancing, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to the Village People's "YMCA."
Teams have come from all over the world to compete, and the Livermore tournament has attracted fans throughout the Bay Area. Conversations overheard in the grandstands featured the usual chitchat about the local A's and Giants, as well as tall tales about batting against Rancy Johnson -- Livermore's playground legend who went on to big-league fame as a pitcher -- in the early 1980s.
Raymond Belkora, a San Francisco 12-year-old, sat along the left-field line Tuesday, keeping score the old-fashioned way, by noting every play on a large score card. He and his father, Jeff Belkora, said they escaped San Francisco's fog by driving an hour east, sitting under sunny East Bay skies to watch their favorite sport.
"I started playing baseball when I was 3," said Raymond, who wore a Giants cap. "I've loved it ever since."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.
Little League Intermediate World Series Schedule
All games at Max Baer Field, Livermore. For a full schedule of games, visit www.intermediateworldseries.org.
Tuesday, July 30
Game 1 -- Puerto Rico 7, Ecuador 3
Game 2 -- Houston, Texas 6, Collier Township, Pa. 4
Game 3 -- Japan 19, Canada 1
Game 4 -- Pleasanton National 12, Jenison, Mich. 0
Wednesday, July 31
Game 5 -- Houston, Texas vs. Rutherfordton, N.C., 3 p.m.
Game 6 -- Pleasanton National vs. Nogales, Ariz., 6 p.m.
Thursday, Aug. 1
Game 7 -- Ecuador vs. Canada, 9 a.m.
Game 8 -- Collier Township, Pa. vs. Game 6 loser, noon
Game 9 -- Jenison, Mich. vs. Game 5 loser, 3 p.m.
Game 10 -- Puerto Rico vs. Japan, 6 p.m.
Friday, Aug. 2
Game 97 -- TBA Consolation game, 9 a.m.
Game 11 -- Game 9 winner vs. Game 8 winner, noon
Game 12 -- Game 6 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 3 p.m.
Saturday, Aug. 3
Game 98 -- Challenger Game, 10 a.m.
Game 13 -- Game 10 loser vs. Game 7 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 14 -- Game 12 loser vs. Game 11 winner, 4 p.m.
Sunday, Aug. 4
Game 99 -- Game 8 loser vs. Game 13 loser, 10 a.m.
Game 15 -- International championship, Game 13 winner vs. Game 10 winner, 1 p.m.
Game 16 -- United States championship, Game 14 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 4 p.m.
Monday, Aug. 5
Game 17 -- World Series championship, Game 15 winner vs. Game 16 winner, 4 p.m.