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A's host Pitch, Hit & Run event at the Coliseum

MLB.com

OAKLAND -- The A's hosted the Team Championship round of the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run competition on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, with 24 kids ages 7-14 competing in their age groups.

The participants threw at a strike-zone target, hit balls off a tee at home plate and ran from second base to home in the competition.

OAKLAND -- The A's hosted the Team Championship round of the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run competition on Sunday at Oakland Coliseum, with 24 kids ages 7-14 competing in their age groups.

The participants threw at a strike-zone target, hit balls off a tee at home plate and ran from second base to home in the competition.

In addition to being recognized during a pregame ceremony before the A's game with the Angels, the winners will be ranked nationally -- with the top participants in each age group advancing to the Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run National Finals during MLB All-Star Week.

Kabir Faiz, an account manager for MLB Pitch, Hit & Run who helped run the event, said the highlight for him was the chance for kids to experience playing on a big league field.

"Being able to step on a Major League field -- competing on a field that some of their heroes, some of their favorite players get to compete on -- it's a great reward for them," Faiz said. "It's amazing, and they're all smiles. It's an awesome experience for all the families alike, so it's great."

The participants on Sunday each won at their local and sectional competitions -- with 650,000 kids in the country competing every year.

"These are the elite of the elite that make it to this level," Faiz said.

In its 22nd year, the program is free for all hosts and participants and is part of the Play Ball initiative between Major League Baseball and USA Baseball that seeks to promote youth participation in baseball activities.

Results

7/8 Softball Division
1. Logan Paredes (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)
2. Emmelyn Goodpasture (Wilton, Calif.)
3. Addison Rizzio (Marysville, Calif.)

9/10 Softball Division
1. Sophia O Quelly (Woodland, Calif.)
2. Kendall Bridgeford (Shasta Lake, Calif.)
3. Jaelee Hammes (Sun Valley, Nev.)

11/12 Softball Division
1. Aila Cordell (Gold River, Calif.)
2. Ava Goodpasture (Wilton, Calif.)
3. Lilly Snider (Marysville, Calif.)

13/14 Softball Division
1. Emily McCalla (Galt, Calif.)
2. Azaria Sanchez (Fresno, Calif.)
3. Lydia Rigby (Sun Valley, Nev.)

7/8 Baseball Division
1. Andres Reyna (Merced, Calif.)
2. Zach Clifford (Rocklin, Calif.)
3. Braden McCormack (Marina, Calif.)

9/10 Baseball Division
1. Jayden Wong (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)
2. Aidan Cruz (Sun Valley, Nev.)
3. Brodie Ogden (McArthur, Calif.)

11/12 Baseball Division
1. Matthew Lewis (Elverta, Calif.)
2. Kaden Sackett (Rancho Cordova, Calif.)
3. Weston Deboer (Reno, Nev.)

13/14 Baseball Division
1. Thomas Meyer III (Rio Linda, Calif.)
2. Daniel Lewis (Rocklin, Calif.)
3. Wesley Simpson (Carson City, Nev.)

Eric He is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland.

Oakland Athletics

PNC Park hosts 23 Pitch, Hit & Run participants

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Gage Gillott is very familiar with the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run event. After two second-place finishes in the Team Championship round at PNC Park in prior years, last year Gillott qualified as a national finalist in the 13/14 age group and was able to take part in the final event at Marlins Park in Miami during MLB All-Star Week.

One year later, the 14-year-old returned to PNC Park on Saturday morning to once again compete in the Team Championship round alongside 22 other baseball and softball participants from the Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas.

View Full Game Coverage

PITTSBURGH -- Gage Gillott is very familiar with the Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run event. After two second-place finishes in the Team Championship round at PNC Park in prior years, last year Gillott qualified as a national finalist in the 13/14 age group and was able to take part in the final event at Marlins Park in Miami during MLB All-Star Week.

One year later, the 14-year-old returned to PNC Park on Saturday morning to once again compete in the Team Championship round alongside 22 other baseball and softball participants from the Pennsylvania and West Virginia areas.

View Full Game Coverage

Gillott has now participated in the event six times. When asked if his ample experience eased any of the nerves of competing, Gillott said it did, but "it's still kind of nerve-wracking."

The Pitch, Hit & Run tournament, which is now in its 22nd year, encourages baseball and softball players ages 7-14 to showcase their skills as part of MLB's Play Ball initiative. As a whole, the competition consists of four levels: Local, Sectional, Team and National.

The 23 participants, clad in green Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run shirts, began the day testing their pitching skills by throwing at a designated "Strike Zone" from either 35 feet (softball division) or 45 feet (baseball division). Afterward, they proceeded to the hit portion of the competition -- which involved hitting balls as far as possible off a tee, while staying within close proximity to a measuring tape that went from home plate to center field. Fianlly, the participants were timed running from second base to home plate -- a total distance of 120 feet.

"It's a great thing put on by MLB," Gillott said. "It's fun, enjoyable and a great opportunity for kids to come out and do it."

Throughout June, every Major League team will host its respective Team Championship. The Top 3 scorers in each age division out of all 30 Team Championships will advance to the National Finals during MLB All-Star Week at Nationals Park in Washington D.C. The national finalists will be announced on July 2 on MLB Network.

The eight first-place finishers from the Team Championship were recognized prior to the Pirates' game against the Reds on Saturday.

Results:

7/8 Softball Division:

1st - Rylie Armentrout (Cabins, W.Va.)

2nd - Katelyn Dubee (Gibsonia, Pa.)

3rd - Addilyn Lehman (Millerton, Pa.)

9/10 Softball Division:

1st - Brooke Wilcox (Covington, Pa.)

2nd - Gia Gillott (Connellsville, Pa.)

11/12 Softball Division:

1st - Alana Stuart (Warren, Pa.)

2nd - Melia Mitskavich (DuBois, Pa.)

3rd - Giavonna Minton (Glenshaw, Pa.)

13/14 Softball Division:

1st - Sadie Bowers (Waterford, Pa.)

2nd - Taryn Stewart (Petersburg, Pa.)

3rd - Makela Bevans (Connellsville, Pa.)

7/8 Baseball Division:

1st - Levi Czar (Northern Cambria, Pa.)

2nd - Hunter White (Washington, Pa.)

3rd - Luke Bowers (Waterford, Pa.)

9/10 Baseball Division:

1st - Ben Yeckel (Glenshaw, Pa.)

2nd - Parker Shutty (Northern Cambria, Pa.)

3rd - Ty Sperringer (Colliers, W.Va.)

11/12 Baseball Division:

1st - Brighton Anderson (Meadville, Pa.)

2nd - Evan Weiwiora (Northern Cambria, Pa.)

3rd - Elijah Kuykendall (Keyser, W.Va.)

13/14 Baseball Division:

1st - Gage Gillott (Connellsville, Pa.)

2nd - Ted Shillito (Grove City, Pa.)

3rd - Tanner Trybus (St. Benedict, Pa.)

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Pirates

For Midnight Sun Game, 24 hours of Play Ball

MLB announces celebratory activities leading up to main event in Fairbanks
MLB.com

Major League Baseball is celebrating the 113th Midnight Sun Game on June 21 by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- are hosting a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

Major League Baseball is celebrating the 113th Midnight Sun Game on June 21 by organizing an unprecedented 24 hours of Play Ball events around this year's game in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Throughout the 24-hour period of daylight during summer solstice, MLB and its partners -- the American Legion, PONY Baseball and Softball, USA Baseball and USA Softball -- are hosting a number of baseball and softball activities for both adults and kids.

During the "Open Session" Play Ball events, approximately 600 youth players, ages 6 to 12, will run through informal baseball and softball stations. Each participant will receive a bat and ball set, as well as Play Ball T-shirts and wristbands. Registration for the open sessions is available at www.PlayBall.org/events.

The day's other activities include games featuring baseball and softball organizations -- including the Armed Forces Softball League, American Legion, Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) and USA Baseball and USA Softball -- which culminates with the Midnight Sun Game.

The main event is between collegiate summer baseball teams, the Alaska Goldpanners and the Orange County Surf at Fairbanks' Growden Park. It's scheduled to begin at 10 p.m. local time and does not use any artificial light. The Midnight Sun Game was first played in 1906 and has been hosted annually by the Goldpanners since 1960, their first year of competition.

Billy Bean, a former big leaguer and MLB's vice president for social responsibility and special assistant to the Commissioner, will be in attendance. Bean was named the Goldpanners' Most Valuable Player in 1985.

Other special guests include Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, USA Baseball's chief development officer Rick Riccobono, Goldpanners general manager John Lohrke, USA Softball's executive director Craig Cress, Pony Baseball and Softball president Abe Key, MLB's vice president for baseball and softball development David James, Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Karl Kassel and North Pole Mayor Bryce Ward.

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles.

Reds Community Fund hosts Signing Day event

Cincinnati Reds

On June 6, the Reds Community Fund hosted its second annual Signing Day event for high school seniors at the Reds Hall of Fame Theater at Great American Ball Park.

The ceremony honored 14 local high school student-athletes who have trained at P&G Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and played for the Reds RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) baseball and softball teams.

On June 6, the Reds Community Fund hosted its second annual Signing Day event for high school seniors at the Reds Hall of Fame Theater at Great American Ball Park.

The ceremony honored 14 local high school student-athletes who have trained at P&G Cincinnati Reds Youth Academy and played for the Reds RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) baseball and softball teams.

This select group has signed letters of intent to play baseball or softball at the college level:

Softball
Hallie Crawford, Muskingum College (Lakota East)
Mackenzie Meyer, Cincinnati Christian University (Ross)
Haley Grau, Capital University (Ross)
Alyssa Dixon, University of the Cumberlands (Highlands KY)
Kylie Hagl, Miami University Hamilton (Colerain)
Mikala Duncan-Wolf, Wilmington College (Lebanon)
Bethany Kolbinsky, Miami University Hamilton (Colerain)           

Baseball
Justin Hilton, Kentucky Christian University (Princeton)
Brian Zix, Urbana University (Moeller)
Benjamin Sharp, Urbana University (Moeller)
Grant Lohmeier, Union College (Princeton)
Lawrence Hines, Wright State University -- Lake (Colerain)
Kyandrey Davis, Wright State University -- Lake (Withrow)
Justin Donovan, Urbana University (Elder)

Two of the seniors, Julie Kramer and Justin Hilton, each received $2,500 college scholarships from the Reds Community Fund.

Hilton reflected on the significance of realizing his goal to play baseball in college.

"Never to give up on my dreams and always pursue my dreams," said Hilton, who will play for Kentucky Christian University. "I wanted to become a college baseball player or professional baseball player, and I put in the work and all the hard work paid off. And now I am here today signing to play college baseball. Not a lot of kids my age get to play baseball or play any kind of sport at the next level. I'm just thankful to God and everyone else who helped me along the way."

Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen was a special guest and had words of encouragement for the seniors.

"You guys are going to go through tons of ups and tons of downs," said Lorenzen, who played baseball at Cal State Fullerton before being drafted by the Reds in 2013. "Trying to manage time in college with doing sports and going to school, it's tough. But the most important thing and the one thing you can control is your perspective. You can always look at the negative side of things and dwell on those or there's always a flip side, a positive perspective in any situation you come to. My advice to you is there's always two sides of the coin. Find the right perspective in how you approach everything that you do."

Signing Day took place the same week as the 2018 MLB Draft, and Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams stopped by to recognize the signees.

"The impact that the Urban Youth Academy, the RBI Program and the Community Fund and what they're doing for youth baseball in this entire region are so important, because it's keeping kids engaged and it's keeping our numbers up," said Williams. "And you just never know where the next star's going to come from. But watching that Draft board the last couple days and the number of names that came from this region reminded me what a strong baseball group we really have here."

Michael Anderson is the public relations manager for the Cincinnati Reds.

Cincinnati Reds

Pinder visits school for special-needs kids

A's utility player takes over tradition from ex-teammate Vogt
MLB.com

DUBLIN, Calif. -- Kids at the School of Imagination received a special guest on Wednesday morning, when A's utility player Chad Pinder and his fiancee, Taylor, spent time at the full-inclusion preschool serving special-needs children.

Pinder also will be signing autographs outside Section 218 before Saturday's game at the Coliseum for fans who make a $30 donation to the school, which will be recognized as the Nonprofit of the Game.

View Full Game Coverage

DUBLIN, Calif. -- Kids at the School of Imagination received a special guest on Wednesday morning, when A's utility player Chad Pinder and his fiancee, Taylor, spent time at the full-inclusion preschool serving special-needs children.

Pinder also will be signing autographs outside Section 218 before Saturday's game at the Coliseum for fans who make a $30 donation to the school, which will be recognized as the Nonprofit of the Game.

View Full Game Coverage

Wednesday was Pinder's second visit to the school, which serves around 600 kids a year with developmental challenges, such as autism.

"I had a blast," said Pinder, 26. "It was awesome ... I got to hang out with a bunch of classes and do a bunch of activities, which was just a lot of fun."

The school was founded by Charlene Sigman and her husband, Mitch, who originally operated it out of their home in nearby Pleasanton. When the number of students grew from four to 100, the city asked them to find another location. They wound up moving seven times in six years, jumping between office spaces and churches before the mayor of Dublin helped them land a 12,024-square-foot building, which they refurnished, redesigned and opened in 2011.

The first year, they had three open classrooms. Today, they have none. There are 150 children on the wait list, and there is a foundation and a scholarship program. Last year, there was close to $70,000 in scholarships.

"Just to raise awareness for this school and the community, it's huge for them," Pinder said. "There's no reason that more people in the area shouldn't know about it."

Tweet from @Athletics: Chad Pinder and his fianc��e Taylor hung out with kids at @soi4kids in Dublin today. Chad���s dress-up game is on point with the gold head scarf(?). 😂 pic.twitter.com/ZSCm6ncKVP

The Sigmans said visits from players and support from the A's means the world to the program because of the awareness it raises.

"Someone like Chad, willing to take time out of his very busy schedule to support us and raise awareness and funds, that's what makes it work," Mitch Sigman said. "Otherwise, I don't where the resources would come from. It's a really nice dream to have. But it's people like Chad, who are willing to give up their time, that makes it happen."

Charlene added that Pinder visiting gives everyone an extra boost.

"It's so great for the kids to just have him here," she said. "All that positive attention for them, they feel very special about that. The teaching team, it just gives us all a little lift."

Tweet from @Athletics: Chad will also be signing autographs for $30 an item at the Community Corner from 11:05am-11:30am before this Saturday���s game. All proceeds benefit @soi4kids. pic.twitter.com/4oZypO5DDq

Pinder made the visit on a tip from Stephen Vogt, the former A's catcher who made routine trips to the school when he was in Oakland. Vogt was claimed off waivers by the Brewers last year, but he called Pinder over the offseason and asked if he could keep the visits going.

"This was a big part of his life here," Pinder said of Vogt. "He used to bring his family out here. He just asked me if I would want to take over the reins, come hang out with the kids, and I was all for it. Extremely glad that I took the opportunity."

Eric He is a reporter for MLB.com based in Oakland.

Oakland Athletics, Chad Pinder

MLB dream within reach at Breakthrough Series

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- For several participants in this year's Breakthrough Series in Kansas City, the experience is not something new. But while they may have been through the program in the past, one thing makes this year more important: ties to last week's Major League Baseball Draft.

Of the 60 Breakthrough Series players in Kansas City, 15 have participated in previous developmental programs sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball, which are making an effort to advance the skills of players from underserved communities nationwide. In addition to the annual iterations of the Breakthrough Series, players may also take part in the Dream Series and Elite Development Invitational events.

KANSAS CITY -- For several participants in this year's Breakthrough Series in Kansas City, the experience is not something new. But while they may have been through the program in the past, one thing makes this year more important: ties to last week's Major League Baseball Draft.

Of the 60 Breakthrough Series players in Kansas City, 15 have participated in previous developmental programs sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball, which are making an effort to advance the skills of players from underserved communities nationwide. In addition to the annual iterations of the Breakthrough Series, players may also take part in the Dream Series and Elite Development Invitational events.

• Complete Breakthrough Series coverage

These programs offer the players not only an opportunity to polish their skills, but also a potential path to the pros through exposure to scouts. In this year's Draft, 25 Breakthrough Series alumni were selected, something that encourages this year's crop of prospects.

"It's just good to know I was working with those guys last year, same event," said Isaac Nunez, a shortstop from Altamonte Springs, Fla. "For them to come out and make a name for themselves, it sets me up for my future, too."

For the players, watching the same guys they were on the field with last year is a reminder that their dreams are achievable. They're not taking that for granted.

"It means a lot," said Trey Faltine, a shortstop and pitcher from Richmond, Texas. "It shows that there are scouts in here watching us, and that being here gives you the opportunity to fulfill your dreams and have that chance to be a professional baseball player one day."

It's not just the exposure that makes a difference, though. Several guests will speak to the group, including Royals legend and Hall of Famer George Brett, who spoke about the importance of mental preparation as a player every day. Alcides Escobar of the Royals and Billy Hamilton of the Reds will speak on Tuesday.

The players also received top-notch instruction from an experienced cast of coaches, who helped with their mechanics, provided insight about the game and taught strategies and form.

Tom Gordon, Marquis Grissom and LaTroy Hawkins highlight the event's leadership staff, which is piloted by former Major League infielder and manager Jerry Manuel. In all, the 17 instructors combined for 10 All-Star selections and more than 150 years of big league experience, something that doesn't go unnoticed.

Tweet from @MLBDevelops: Hall of Famer @GeorgeHBrett in the building at @KC_UYA! pic.twitter.com/mKyvQuHy9c

"All these coaches have been where we all want to get to," said Nasim Nunez, a shortstop from Lawrenceville, Ga.

Simply being here isn't good enough, though, and the players know that. Those Breakthrough alumni who made it to the professional level last year had to compete with thousands of others across the country.

Tweet from @KC_UYA: The KCUYA welcomes the #BreakthroughSeries! pic.twitter.com/WJDHosdb6a

After all, they are in Kansas City for only four days. If you ask them, it's the work done in the other 361 days that truly makes the difference.

"People are talented that come out of here," said Chase Davis, an outfielder from Elk Grove, Calif. "It just gives me a shot and makes me realize that I could keep doing the same thing as long as I keep working hard and getting after it every day."

Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals

Red Sox bring magic of game to Miracle Leaguers

MLB.com

ACTON, Mass. -- Clad in matching red Red Sox T-shirts, Miracle League's Team Ortiz huddled outside the dugout at Miracle Field.

"Go Red Sox," they cheered, raising their outstretched hands in sync to the sky.

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ACTON, Mass. -- Clad in matching red Red Sox T-shirts, Miracle League's Team Ortiz huddled outside the dugout at Miracle Field.

"Go Red Sox," they cheered, raising their outstretched hands in sync to the sky.

View Full Game Coverage

The league's spring season ended last week, but it gathered one more time for two games on Saturday for the Red Sox Play Ball event -- an initiative that brings baseball to local communities in the Boston area.

"Working at the Miracle League, it just makes my heart so full," said Sam Nipatnantaporn, the Red Sox's coordinator for fan and youth engagement. "... Just adding something special and extra for [these kids] to enjoy really is [gratifying]. ... [Play Ball is] an event that I can't put words to, because it's just an experience that's very fulfilling."

The Red Sox have partnered with Miracle League for two years, but the seeds for this event were sowed long before that -- four years before the field these athletes played on was even created. It started when Miracle League coach and co-founder Andy Richardt was coaching his daughter in softball, and the thoughts he had about his son with special needs, Henry.

"I thought, 'Where's Henry going to get to play?'" he said.

Richardt read an article about the Miracle League and brought it home. Then, he and his wife, Lauren, decided to take action. They heard about a couple who was trying to bring Miracle League to Boston and offered to serve as coaches.

"We thought, 'Well, we can do this,' not knowing what we were getting into," he said.

Forty-five athletes competed in the league's first season in 2008. And as they began to recruit buddies for the athletes from local middle schools and high schools, word spread quickly. Today, 172 athletes compete in Miracle League.

"[When] we started out, we would chase people down and annoy people to talk about the Miracle League," Richardt said. "And now people come up to us, and are like, 'Oh yeah, the Miracle League. I know about that.'"

Tweet from @RedSox: Today we celebrated @PlayBall Week with some of our favorite people, the @MiracleLeagueMA! ������ pic.twitter.com/bvF8hztMNB

More and more members of the Acton community began donating their time and money to the league. They earned enough donations in 2012 to build Miracle Field, in partnership with the Town of Acton. The facility has an accessible turf field, where games do not need to be canceled due to rain, as well as a flat surface easy for athletes in wheelchairs or walkers to circle the bases -- all surrounded by a fence for safety. It even has its own Green Monster behind left field, where the Miracle League athletes and coaches lined up in between innings on Saturday to get a picture with a visiting Green Monster, Wally.

The athletes were also able to explore Red Sox batting practice through virtual reality, collect a free bat and Play Ball T-shirt, and even take a picture with the 2013 World Series trophy. But Wally was undoubtedly the highlight of the event.

"We [told] them ... Wally's [was] coming, but I don't think their parents [told] them," Richardt said. "Or they [forgot], 'cause they [got] so excited to play baseball. And then when Wally [appeared], it [was] just overwhelming for them -- because they've seen Wally on TV and they've seen him at games, but he [was] always so far away. So to be able to interact with him on the baseball field, I think that [was] probably their favorite part."

Richardt said after last year's Play Ball event, athletes asked him during the spring season, "Are you going to do it again?" They were eager for an exciting end to their baseball season.

Mike Brodsky, whose 12-year-old daughter, Allie, just finished her fifth season playing for Miracle League, said they were out of town when Play Ball came last year. But they heard about how fun it was, and were excited to join the event to see Wally in person.

"She [was] really excited about Wally, right up until he [got] close, and then she [wondered] about it," Brodsky said, laughing. "But she gave him some knuckle bumps and high-fives, so she warmed up to him."

When asked how she liked the Play Ball event, Allie flashed a grin and gave it two thumbs up. Her smile was equally as wide when Wally was mentioned. That was Richardt's favorite part of the day -- watching how much fun the athletes were having, from high-fiving Wally to dancing in the outfield.

"We really appreciate the support of the Red Sox," Richardt said. "It's a big deal to have the Red Sox come out, and it means so much to our athletes. So we're lucky that they're supporting us, too."

Blake Richardson is a reporter for MLB.com based in Boston.

Boston Red Sox

Kids show off Pitch, Hit & Run skills in Chicago

White Sox host youth baseball event at Guaranteed Rate Field
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- Twenty-four boys and girls ages seven to 14 from Illinois and Indiana took part in baseball and softball skill competitions early Saturday morning at Guaranteed Rate Field as part of the Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run program.

The youth players, having won their local age group, competed in the White Sox team championship. All 30 MLB teams host similar events, and Saturday's eight age-division winners will have a chance to compete in the national finals held during All-Star Weekend in Washington, D.C.

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- Twenty-four boys and girls ages seven to 14 from Illinois and Indiana took part in baseball and softball skill competitions early Saturday morning at Guaranteed Rate Field as part of the Scotts MLB Pitch, Hit & Run program.

The youth players, having won their local age group, competed in the White Sox team championship. All 30 MLB teams host similar events, and Saturday's eight age-division winners will have a chance to compete in the national finals held during All-Star Weekend in Washington, D.C.

View Full Game Coverage

For 14-year-old Connor Walters, who placed first in the ages 13-14 baseball group, Saturday's event was all about staying relaxed.

"I walked up just trying to have fun today, because just [a few team champions] get to go to the national finals," Walters said. "That'd be really great if I could go, but I just wanted to have fun and see how I could do."

Walters and the other seven winners were also honored on the field before the White Sox play the Brewers on Saturday.

Each of the athletes began the morning with the "Run" portion of the event, sprinting from second base to home plate as fast as they could. Then they moved on to the "Pitch" portion, where they had six opportunities to hit a plastic strike zone on a batting cage net as many times as they could. Lastly, the players ventured to the right-field foul pole for the "Hit" finale, where they hit three balls off a tee as far as they could toward the left-field foul pole.

Emma Bolding, the ages 13-14 softball champion, had competed in Pitch, Hit & Run events before at Wrigley Field and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Despite taking first place Saturday, the 13-year-old wasn't completely satisfied with her throwing accuracy.

"I felt pretty decent, but there's always room for improvement," Bolding said.

Pitch, Hit & Run is in its 22nd year and features over 650,000 boys and girls competing every year across the U.S. and Canada. Each of the families of children who participated received tickets to Saturday's game.

WINNERS

Softball
Ages 7-8: Rylie Carlson, Newark, Ill.
Ages 9-10: Natalie Ferguson, Hawthorn Woods, Ill.
Ages 11-12: Sydney Springman, Carthage, Ill.
Ages 13-14: Emma Bolding, Greenfield, Ill.

Baseball
Ages 7-8: Chandler Cox, South Whitley, Ind.
Ages 9-10: Zander Jones, Bushnell, Ill.
Ages 11-12: Cameron Spaulding, Indianapolis, Ind.
Ages 13-14: Connor Walters, Libertyville, Ill.

Max Gelman is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.

Chicago White Sox

D-backs honor Native American youth teams

Recognize 1,178 kids who took part in the 20th annual Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament
Arizona Diamondbacks

The Arizona Diamondbacks honored the Native American community on Sunday afternoon -- as they hosted "Native American Recognition Day," presented by Gila River Hotels and Casinos. Some of the honorees were the 1,178 kids who participated in the 20th annual Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament, as they had an opportunity to take part in a parade around the outfield at Chase Field before the game against the Marlins.

"It's a lot of fun going back and thinking of the memories of when ... [Brad Boxberger and I] used to play Little League together," said D-backs infielder Deven Marrero, who also caught the ceremonial first pitch from Gila River Indian Community Lt. Governor Robert Stone.

The Arizona Diamondbacks honored the Native American community on Sunday afternoon -- as they hosted "Native American Recognition Day," presented by Gila River Hotels and Casinos. Some of the honorees were the 1,178 kids who participated in the 20th annual Inter-Tribal Youth Baseball & Softball Tournament, as they had an opportunity to take part in a parade around the outfield at Chase Field before the game against the Marlins.

"It's a lot of fun going back and thinking of the memories of when ... [Brad Boxberger and I] used to play Little League together," said D-backs infielder Deven Marrero, who also caught the ceremonial first pitch from Gila River Indian Community Lt. Governor Robert Stone.

The ceremony included recognition of the top four teams in each division, as well as the Most Valuable Players in both sports.

Marrero and Boxberger spent a day with the kids during the tournament, which took place from Thursday-Sunday. The event gathered 78 teams from New Mexico, California, Utah, Arizona and Mississippi, an astonishing expansion for an initiative that had started out with just 12 squads in 1999.

"We have to give back to the youth, because I remember being [a kid] and seeing Major League players come and stop by," said Marrero. "It means a lot. It's the same game when you are this young and where [Brad and I] are now.

"These guys are pretty talented. ... One of them could be in the Major Leagues one day."

Arizona Diamondbacks

Braves' Play Ball weekend a hit with kids

MLB.com

ATLANTA -- Over the past three days as the Braves hosted the Nationals, the club's players and coaches spent some time encouraging kids from all ages to participate in the Play Ball weekend at SunTrust Park and the Battery Atlanta.

Play Ball is an initiative designed to increase participation in both baseball and softball for boys and girls across the country. Both parents and kids were able to participate in various activities throughout the weekend.

View Full Game Coverage

ATLANTA -- Over the past three days as the Braves hosted the Nationals, the club's players and coaches spent some time encouraging kids from all ages to participate in the Play Ball weekend at SunTrust Park and the Battery Atlanta.

Play Ball is an initiative designed to increase participation in both baseball and softball for boys and girls across the country. Both parents and kids were able to participate in various activities throughout the weekend.

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Some events of the weekend included a kids-only press conference with pitchers Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz on Saturday, a parade on the field before the game Sunday for invited All-Star teams and a 30-minute skills clinic with coaches Ron Washington and Eric Young on Sunday morning.

"It's exciting to get to explain [the fundamentals] to them because we all were one of those little kids at one point in our lives, and it's so special when you have somebody come to help you and explain their game," Young said. "I just think it is very fortunate for kids to have a big league coach or a big league player coming down and doing these things."

During the clinic on Sunday, the Braves' coaches and players went through fielding drills while also giving advice to kids and parents. Washington's main message was about encouraging kids to get valuable experience at different positions while they are still young.

"Play as many positions as you possibly can," the Braves' third-base coach said to the growing crowd out on the Plaza Green in the Battery Atlanta outside SunTrust Park.

To help explain his point, Washington brought with him someone who is a prime example of the benefits of playing multiple positions.

Growing up, Braves utility man Charlie Culberson was no stranger to any position on the field.

"When I was a little kid, my dad was my coach and there were times when we would play different positions every inning during a game, all of us, we would just rotate," Culberson recalled. "I think that was the best thing for me."

Now, a father's coaching tactic is paying off, as Culberson has found himself used in various ways for the Braves this season.

Since the start of 2018, the 29-year-old has been utilized at shortstop, third base and, recently, left field, while also being used as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.

"I learned how to field my position but I was able to figure out the game of baseball from different angles," Culberson said. "To be more versatile is huge because you can help your team out, but you can also help yourself out."

Including the Braves' Play Ball events this weekend, half of the clubs throughout MLB will be holding Play Ball events throughout June. Beginning in 2015, the Play Ball initiative was created to provide clubs throughout MLB with a platform to engage kids' interest in baseball and softball throughout the community.

And for Young, events like the Play Ball weekend are made worthwhile if the kids can take just one thing with them from the instructions they are given by the coaches and players.

"It's the smile that's so important, to see these kids light up," Young said. "Even if we can just touch one kid, that's so much of an appreciation for us."

Tori McElhaney is a reporter for MLB.com based in Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves, Charlie Culberson

Young fans enjoy Padres' Play Ball Weekend

MLB.com

SAN DIEGO -- How else would San Diego celebrate Play Ball Weekend? By playing ball in Petco Park's park area beyond center field, of course.

The festivities for Major League Baseball's Play Ball Weekend -- two days aimed at engaging young fans and encouraging continued participation in youth baseball and softball -- began on Saturday.

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SAN DIEGO -- How else would San Diego celebrate Play Ball Weekend? By playing ball in Petco Park's park area beyond center field, of course.

The festivities for Major League Baseball's Play Ball Weekend -- two days aimed at engaging young fans and encouraging continued participation in youth baseball and softball -- began on Saturday.

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The Padres played host to a "Youth Game Takeover," featuring a seven-inning game with a plastic bat and ball in the Park at the Park area beyond center field. It kicked off a number of activities on Saturday and Sunday at Petco Park.

Before both of the Padres' games against the Reds, youth players were honored on the field. Thousands of Little Leaguers paraded around the warning track on Sunday ahead of the series finale against Cincinnati. As was the case on Saturday, a handful of those Little Leaguers took part in the pregame ceremony.

In the eyes of Padres skipper Andy Green, it's an immensely meaningful weekend.

"It's unbelievably important, especially when you've got three kids and everybody wants to be on a screen now," Green said. "The more kids you can get out playing baseball, it's better for the future of our game. It's better for the kids. We want them to experience what we believe is the greatest game there is."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres

Kids vie for DC trip at Royals' Pitch, Hit & Run

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- As the grounds crew pulled the tarp off the field at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday and the fresh June sun began to cut through the blanket of clouds that lined the sky, the 24 participants in this year's Scotts Major League Pitch, Hit & Run event took off on a jog around the warning track, ready to compete for a trip to the 2018 MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.

While the potential of a trip to the nation's capital may have been on the minds of the competitors, they still didn't take for granted how far they had already come. Colby Deaver, the 11/12-year-old baseball division champion who qualified from Blue Springs, Mo., relished the opportunity to be so close to the highest level of the game he loves.

KANSAS CITY -- As the grounds crew pulled the tarp off the field at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday and the fresh June sun began to cut through the blanket of clouds that lined the sky, the 24 participants in this year's Scotts Major League Pitch, Hit & Run event took off on a jog around the warning track, ready to compete for a trip to the 2018 MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.

While the potential of a trip to the nation's capital may have been on the minds of the competitors, they still didn't take for granted how far they had already come. Colby Deaver, the 11/12-year-old baseball division champion who qualified from Blue Springs, Mo., relished the opportunity to be so close to the highest level of the game he loves.

"Getting to be out on the field and see some of the [Oakland] Athletics' players down in the dugout, and have some fun with my sport," Deaver said when asked what he enjoyed most about the experience.

Three participants for each age and gender group were brought to The K after qualifying through local competitions. They threw at a mock strike zone, hit balls off a tee and ran from second to home to try to again place in the Top 3 in their classifications among competitors at all 30 Major League ballparks and qualify for the finals in D.C. The winners will be announced July 2 on MLB Network.

While winning the Kansas City competition doesn't automatically qualify the kids for the trip, that doesn't mean they will leave empty-handed if they don't make it. As a surprise, the winner of each age and gender group got to meet Royals pitcher Jakob Junis before the game.

Junis was a national finalist at age 10, attending the 2003 All-Star Game at then-U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

"Was I 10?" a surprised Junis joked. "Is that how long ago that was?"

Tweet from @Royals: As a 10 year old in 2003, @jbljunis was a Pitch, Hit & Run Finalist. Today, he met this year's finalists at #TheK! pic.twitter.com/sYU1X50noP

The event served as the team's centerpiece for the MLB's Play Ball Weekend, a program chock full of activities to promote the game among local youth.

Royals pitchers Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill joined team legends Willie Wilson and John Mayberry on Thursday to surprise kids downtown at the team's Urban Youth Academy. The team bus pulled up just as the group was about to begin practice, unexpectedly joining them on the field to teach them about the game.

"It's so big, just to have kids be able to go out every day and just be active at some point during the day," McCarthy said. "It's huge for their growing up and being healthy, and everything that covers that."

A select group of young baseball and softball players also took over the media's interview room before Saturday's game for a kids' press conference with Royals players and coaches. The kids asked a variety of different questions, ranging from goals on the field to simply what it's like to be in their shoes.

Manager Ned Yost particularly enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the kids. When asked what it was like to be a big-league skipper, he took the opportunity to emphasize the true purpose of the game -- which is what the weekend is really all about.

"It's fun," Yost said. "You get to have fun playing the game. I get to have fun watching you play and get better."

Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals

Kids take field at Angels' Pitch, Hit & Run event

MLB.com

ANAHEIM -- Two dozen baseball and softball players, ages 7-14, took the field at Angel Stadium on Saturday, most for the first time in their lives, as Scotts Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run event afforded them the opportunity to do so.

The day's festivities started with hacks at the tee, three apiece, which then progressed into a pitching competition. Competitors were given six pitches to hit the strike zone as many times as they could. The finale of the three-part tournament had the participants run from a makeshift second base to third, and then home.

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ANAHEIM -- Two dozen baseball and softball players, ages 7-14, took the field at Angel Stadium on Saturday, most for the first time in their lives, as Scotts Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run event afforded them the opportunity to do so.

The day's festivities started with hacks at the tee, three apiece, which then progressed into a pitching competition. Competitors were given six pitches to hit the strike zone as many times as they could. The finale of the three-part tournament had the participants run from a makeshift second base to third, and then home.

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Each competitor won a local qualifier to earn a spot in Saturday's tournament. The Top 3 players from each division are eligible to advance to the national finals, which will be held at Nationals Park during All-Star Week.

"The cool part about this is getting the experience of participating on a Major League baseball field, where the big leaguers play," said Bennett Mayfield, the Pitch, Hit & Run headquarters representative. "It's obviously very unique, and the kids seem to love it. But the parents seem to love it, as well. It's a great experience overall."

There were eight winners in total, one from each age group. Micayla Johnson-Byrd, the winner of the Softball 13/14 Division age group, said that the experience of being on a field where Major Leaguers play was her favorite part of the festivities.

"Adrenaline," Johnson-Byrd said. "I was definitely nervous and excited, seeing the stands, seeing everybody, how big it is."

Malakye Matsumoto, winner of the Baseball 9/10 Division age group, felt the same way -- that playing at Angel Stadium was the formative part of the program.

"It was such an incredible experience," Matsumoto said. "The grass was perfect, it was everything you would imagine."

The Pitch, Hit & Run tournament, which will take place at all 30 MLB parks in the coming weeks, is part of a 22-year program that features 650,000 participants per year. Among the big leaguers who have competed in the past are Eric Hosmer of the Padres, J.P. Crawford and Rhys Hoskins of the Phillies and Jakob Junis of the Royals.

For their efforts, the 24 competitors and their families received tickets to Saturday's Angels game against the Rangers.

Results:

Softball

7/8 Division: 1. Makayla Salcedo (Hacienda Heights, Calif.) 2. Verina Ramirez (Indio, Calif.) 3. McKenzie Francisco (Laguna Niguel, Calif.)

9/10 Division: 1. Sloan Lorenzo (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) 2. Abby Luis (Redondo Beach, Calif.) 3. Yasmine Lopez (Menifee, Calif.)

11/12 Division: 1. Kayden Connaty (Garden Grove, Calif.) 2. Keira Czochanski (Aliso Viejo, Calif.) 3. Kaylee Pitts (Ontario, Calif.)

13/14 Division: 1. Micayla Johnson-Byrd (Hemet, Calif.) 2. Anne-Marie Maden (Redondo Beach, Calif.) 3. Yasmin De La Rosa (Rosemead, Calif.)

Baseball

7/8 Division: 1. John Brande (Palm Desert, Calif.) 2. Maverick Medina (Chino Hills, Calif.) 3. Blake Ely (Torrance, Calif.)

9/10 Division: 1. Malakye Matsumoto (Los Angeles, Calif.) 2. Vaughn Sharp (Yorba Linda, Calif.) 3. Brendan Stahl (Highland, Calif.)

11/12 Division: 1. Jared Galang (Torrance, Calif.) 2. Carter Chi (Cerritos, Calif.) 3. Jonathan Van Ness (Yorba Linda, Calif.)

13/14 Division: 1. Olin Snakenborg (Torrance, Calif.) 2. Steven Gandara (Menifee, Calif.) 3. Nicholas Hernandez (Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)

Avery Yang is a reporter for MLB.com.

Los Angeles Angels

Softball star Finch wows kids at OKC Play Ball

Special to MLB.com

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A selfie with an Olympic gold medalist meant more than could be expressed. After two young girls posed with Olympic medal winner Jennie Finch at the Play Ball event on Saturday morning at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, they could not speak -- only smile.

Others cheered, posed for more photos or even tried to take Finch deep in a home run derby.

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A selfie with an Olympic gold medalist meant more than could be expressed. After two young girls posed with Olympic medal winner Jennie Finch at the Play Ball event on Saturday morning at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, they could not speak -- only smile.

Others cheered, posed for more photos or even tried to take Finch deep in a home run derby.

"Amazing," 7-year-old Rylie Hillis said moments after hitting a long fly ball off Finch.

The Play Ball event was in Oklahoma City for a third straight year, this time with the NCAA Women's College World Series being played just a few miles away. It's a tournament Finch and several USA Softball team members know well.

"It's so much fun to see the College World Series grow and see how many fans come out," Finch said. "With the Women's College World Series a couple of blocks away, it's truly incredible. The excitement in the air, these young girls and boys with the game of softball and baseball -- it's truly special."

Play Ball's initiative is to encourage young people and communities to engage in baseball- or softball-related activities. Hundreds of kids of all ages attended the event, despite the rising temperatures on a clear day.

They were searching for inspiration, and they found it in Finch, an All-American, Olympic gold medalist and the face of American softball.

"I want to tell you guys to have dreams and believe in yourself," Finch told the participants to begin the day. "You have to have the dream, you have to have the goal and then you have to believe in yourself."

Finch spent the day working with and encouraging the younger generation. She even unleashed her rise ball -- though not at full speed -- to one unfortunate boy who asked to see it.

Later, Finch helped teach a 12-year-old boy how to swing a bat for the first time.

"That's what it's all about -- exposing them to the game," Finch said. "A lot of times, they don't know which hand the glove goes on. They see it on TV, but for them to come out here and actually get to experience it, put a bat in their hands and swing at a pitch, it's exciting to experience those firsts with the young athletes."

Tweet from @JennieFinch: Life is good when you���re playing ball! Had a blast at the @MLB #PlayBall event w/ @okc_dodgers & @USASoftball These free @PlayBall events gets kids playing ball, being active, & having FUN! ������Highlight, was hearing a 12 yr old boy say it was his 1st time ever swinging a bat! pic.twitter.com/lfOcyANnlS

The event was entirely female-staffed, from the athletes to MLB staff in attendance. Several members of USA Softball participated, as well, offering tips and encouraging participation before heading to the WCWS.

"It just raises awareness of the game," former Alabama star Haylie McCleney said. "Anything that we can do to grow our sport and really continue to empower females and female athletes is a big thing."

And for baseball and softball, the day was a victory for the future.

"It's getting families together, being outside, being active," Finch said. "In this day and age, we're in a battle against technology. I know, being a mother of three, that this is the best part of baseball and softball: seeing the families come out and do this activity and celebrate the game, celebrate youthfulness and just having fun and exposing them to the game of softball and baseball."

Jacob Unruh is a contributor to MLB.com.

Girls baseball takes center stage in Vero Beach

65 high school players flock to Historic Dodgertown for instruction, Q&A with AAGPBL alumni
Special to MLB.com

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Seventy-five years ago this week, as World War II raged overseas, Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley devised a plan, with the help of a group of baseball advisers, to fill the empty seats at Major League Baseball parks. The result was the birth of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a breakthrough idea that would years later inspire the Tom Hanks film "A League of Their Own."

Three alumni from the AAGPBL -- Maybelle "Mae" Blair, Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich and Jeneane Lesko -- were on hand Thursday to help welcome 65 high school girls from around the U.S. and Canada for the inaugural Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at Historic Dodgertown. It's a groundbreaking four-day amateur development camp designed specifically for girls baseball players and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball.

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Seventy-five years ago this week, as World War II raged overseas, Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley devised a plan, with the help of a group of baseball advisers, to fill the empty seats at Major League Baseball parks. The result was the birth of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a breakthrough idea that would years later inspire the Tom Hanks film "A League of Their Own."

Three alumni from the AAGPBL -- Maybelle "Mae" Blair, Shirley "Hustle" Burkovich and Jeneane Lesko -- were on hand Thursday to help welcome 65 high school girls from around the U.S. and Canada for the inaugural Girls Baseball Breakthrough Series at Historic Dodgertown. It's a groundbreaking four-day amateur development camp designed specifically for girls baseball players and sponsored by MLB and USA Baseball.

In addition to daily on-field drills that include instruction from several notable instructors -- among them former MLB pitcher Fernando Arroyo and current U.S. Women's National Baseball Team members Marti Sementelli and Jenna Marston -- the participants were treated to a lively chat with Blair, Burkovich and Lesko on Thursday night after dinner. Many of the participants here are the only girls on their respective baseball teams, but the three former AAGPBL trailblazers encouraged the girls to never let those barriers get in the way of playing the game if that's what they really want to do.

The Rockford Peaches began their inaugural season 75 years ago

"It was a memory that we will never, never forget, and one of these days you kids are going to have that opportunity," Blair told them. "The doors have been opened up for you kids. You never quit. If you want to play baseball, play baseball. Remember that."

Trinity Curtis of Oakhurst, Calif., said she previously had a chance to meet Blair and Burkovich at the inaugural Trailblazer Series event in Compton, Calif., last year -- the second Trailblazer event was held in April -- and is equally excited about being invited to the Breakthrough Series in Vero Beach.

"Just continue playing, just don't let negativity get you down because we're here for a purpose," Curtis said of the message she received from Blair and Burkovich.

One of the instructors here this weekend is Falls Church (Va.) High School coach Codi Dudley, who said she believes that camps like this will make the U.S. National Team a strong contender at future World Cup tournaments. This year's World Cup will be held in the U.S. for the first time in Viera, Fla., from Aug. 22-31.

"I think this is going to make a huge impact, I really do," Dudley said. "The really good girls from this feed right into the U.S. Women's National Team, and I think the more exposure it gets, it could be similar to what softball did. When softball came back into the Olympics in the '90s, fast-pitch exploded."

Major League Baseball has been collaborating with dozens of national organizations, all of which have committed to providing girls the opportunity to participate in their baseball leagues. USA Baseball's National Member Organizations -- AABC, American Legion, Babe Ruth League, Dixie Boys and Majors, Dixie Youth, Little League International, NABF, NFHS, PONY and USSSA -- are all committed to making young women feel welcome playing baseball in their leagues.

Kim Ng, MLB's senior vice president for baseball and softball development, also had some sage advice for the participants Thursday night while giving the group some history about Historic Dodgertown and how Jackie Robinson once trained here.

"Each of you is a Jackie Robinson in your own way," Ng said. "And what [Blair, Burkovich and Lesko] did many years ago has laid the foundation for what you're doing now."

Steve Dorsey is a contributor to MLB.com.