CHICAGO -- When 7-year-old Jessica Clemons found out she'd be competing in the finals of the Cubs' Pitch, Hit & Run Competition at Wrigley Field, she asked her father what he thought the dirt would feel like.
While Clemons used a softball in Sunday morning's competition like the rest of the girls, she usually plays baseball. And in her hometown of Bettendorf, Iowa, the field she plays on has a rugged limestone surface that can tear up the players' pants.
On Sunday, she played under the finest of conditions at a freshly-trimmed and well-conditioned Wrigley. She competed along with 23 other young players for a chance to clinch a national finals spot in the competition at the 2013 MLB All-Star Game next month at Citi Field.
"It's obviously hallowed grounds to be out here at Wrigley Field," Pitch, Hit & Run representative Scott Jones said. "A lot of history here, a lot of great things have happened, a lot of heartbreaking moments as well, but for the kids to be able to go out and participate where their heroes participate, it's really an amazing program."
Baseball is a team game, but the Pitch, Hit & Run competition measures kids' most basic individual skills that are necessary to play the game. Scotts sponsors the free program so that 600,000 participants could try their luck at the local level, hoping to advance to the regional final and eventually to one of the Major League parks around the country. The three highest scores nationwide from each age group will get a trip to New York for the final competition.
The event consists of three scored rounds, where kids in age groups of 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 years old compete in skill competitions to measure the most raw of individual baseball and softball skills -- pitching, hitting and running.
In the pitching portion of the competition, the girls threw softballs from 35 feet and the boys hurled baseballs from 45 feet at a 17-by-30-inch target that correlates to points. Then the competitors grabbed bats, hitting balls off a tee toward dead center field and getting graded on distance and accuracy. Finally, each young player engaged in a timed race around the bases from second base to home. The scores from each event were aggregated, and Chicago's regional winner in each age group was crowned.
"I think the kids did a terrific job today, a lot of pressure out there on the field," Jones said. "There's a lot of nerves at stake. It's great to see how they performed. I think they've got some great scores, and hopefully we've got some advancers on to the All-Star Game."
Clemons took second place in her age group and likely won't be headed to New York, but 14-year-old Jordan Isham from Sandwich, Ill., took the top spot for his age group. He'll find out in a few short weeks whether his score will stack up against other top competition in cities around the country.
"It was great," his father, Ken, said. "He's been practicing for weeks to do this, so it paid off to keep practicing. He's playing well this year. It was a dream to come out and play at Wrigley Field and it was a dream to come out on that big field, so now he knows what it's like."
Ethan Asofsky is an associate reporter for MLB.com.