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Kids show off skills on diamond at Chase Field

Boys, girls ages 7-14 face off in MLB Pitch, Hit & Run competition

Special to

PHOENIX -- The key, Grace Lyons said, was a good night's sleep and a good breakfast.

That and 6-of-6 on target in the pitching competition helped the 13-year-old from nearby Glendale, Ari., win the girls 13-14-year-old division of Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run event, presented by Scotts, at Chase Field Sunday.

Lyons was one of eight age-group winners of the Arizona Diamondbacks team championship for kids from Arizona and New Mexico. Twenty-four competitors took the diamond to see how far they could hit a softball and baseball off a tee, how accurate they were in hitting a target with pitches from 35 and 45 feet, and how fast they could zip around the bases from just off of second base around third to home plate.

Lyons has played baseball since she was six years old and only recently switched to softball. She's a middle infielder.

"I don't think I hit as best as I could, but pitching, you get the most points there, it helped," Lyons said. "I wasn't really stressed, I was just kind of zoned in."

A point total was assigned to each of the three events and then tabulated at the end of the competition to determine the overall winner of each age group. Winners' scores are compared with winners from the other 29 Major League clubs, with the top three overall scorers in each gender group earning an expenses-paid trip to New York and Citi Field for the 2013 MLB All-Star Game.

After the competition in New York, they'll get to shag balls in the outfield during the annual All-Star Game Home Run Derby.

The competition started early in the morning, and each participant got only three swings off a tee, six pitches and one chance to run a timed sprint on the basepaths.

Cannon Cook of Paradise Valley, Ariz., won the 11-12-year-old boys division despite wearing a brace over his injured right wrist. Cook had a hard time with pitching but did well enough in the other two events to win.

He'd gotten hurt only three days before, and his parents said the family was just happy Cook was in the competition.

Derrick Mitchell, a lanky eight-year-old, won the boys 7-8-year-old division. Baseball and athletics are in the Phoenix native's blood.

Derrick's father played college football. His paternal grandfather played baseball, and his maternal grandfather, Leon Brown, made it to the Majors with the New York Mets in 1976.

"It's exciting just to see him compete and do well in the competition. He's been working hard for it and it all came to fruition for him," Derrick's father, Donya, said.

Derrick hits in batting cages two or three times a week and has won the hitting competition at every Pitch, Hit & Run competition he's ever done, Donya Mitchell said.

Derrick, who plays third base and shortstop, was also the only kid his age allowed to play in the 10-11-year-old Little League division in his area.

"I had a lot of fun, it was awesome," Derrick said, mentioning how much he practiced for the competition. "I hit very hard to the outfield."

Derrick made sure to see as much of the D-backs' dugout as he could while his proud family looked on. All of the participants were given a plaque with the place in which they finished, and the winners were to be introduced to the crowd shortly before Sunday's D-backs-San Francisco Giants game.

Lyons' parents said the chance to see their daughter compete at a Major League park was meaningful.

"For a kid, that's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," Grace's dad, John, said. "That's why we just wanted her to have fun and enjoy the moment."

Jose M. Romero is a contributor to

Arizona Diamondbacks