DENVER -- Hours before the Major League players arrived at the ball park to prepare for Sunday's rubber match between the Marlins and Rockies, two-dozen elite baseball players aged 7 to 14 showed up for an intense competition on the Major League field in the 2018 Colorado Rockies Team Championship, the third of four stages in the annual Pitch, Hit, and Run program.
Participants came from all over the Rocky Mountain West, including Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota, Utah and Montana to compete at Coors Field for a spot in the National Finals in Washington. D.C., next month. They arrived with family members sporting supporting T-shirts boasting their allegiance to "Team Ethan," for example, wearing their pride for the lad from Laramie.
"Everybody that you saw out here today was a champion within their local community, whether it was a Boys & Girls Club, YMCA, their school, or Little League," said Kabir Faiz, account coordinator at Scott's MLB Pitch, Hit & Run. "They won there, and then they also won in the sectional within their local community."
The original pool of participants included approximately 650,000 youth baseball players from all over the country and a total of 720 compete at each of the 30 Major League ballparks in the Team Championships. A total of 24 players will proceed to the Finals at Nationals Park in D.C. during the Major League Baseball All-Star Week festivities.
"The competitors that we have out here today are the premiere youth athletes within baseball," Faiz said. "We have the best of the best, the elite of the elite that come out to this event. It's fun. It's a little nerve-wracking at first, being on the field, getting in front of their parents and their peers, but once they get settled in it's a great experience for all of them."
For an event that focuses on the fundamentals of the game, it is a high-stakes, high-intensity day of competition, beginning at 7:30 a.m. on a Sunday. After lining up outside the park and warming up on the outfield grass, the players proceed through the three components of competition.
They get six pitches to fill the strike zone, three swings off a tee to drive balls as far as they can as close to dead center field as possible, and one run from second to home to show their speed on the basepaths.
The intensity and focus on preparation is most evident as the players step into the big league batter's box, adjusting the tee to their liking, taking their practice swings, and, in many cases, taking a beat to remember to breath before taking their cut at a chance to hit the finals.
"I feel happy knowing there's an opportunity for me to go to the Nationals," Morgan Peterson of Grand Island, Neb., said. "I've done it a couple times, and it's fun to keep the tradition going."
A "couple times" is a bit of an understatement. Peterson was competing at Coors Field for the sixth time, so the thrill of stepping on a big league field didn't rattle her the way it might have during her rookie competition. A little too much adrenaline or nerves can lead to wild pitches or balls batted into the ground at home plate, and unlike the Major League players who'll take the field later in the afternoon, these competitors don't have the luxury of multiple innings to find the right touch on the mound or several at-bats to barrel a ball -- they have a handful of pitches and swings to seal their fate.
Peterson conquered Coors Field and took first place in the 13-14-year-old Softball Division. She'll wait one more week to see how her results stack up and learn if she can follow in her sister's footsteps and compete in the National Finals.
The 2018 season marks the 23rd year for the Pitch, Hit, and Run program, and the competition can boast a number of Major League success stories, including Eric Hosmer, who finished second in the National Finals held at Coors Field during the 1998 All-Star Week.
7-8 Year Old Softball Division
1st place: Madison Shaw, Edgar, Nebraska
2nd place: Phebe Johnson, Strasburg, Colorado
3rd place: Kylan Bower, Cody, Wyoming
9-10 Year Old Softball Division
1st place: Camory Wedal, Bethune, Colorado
2nd place: Madi Olson, Byers, Colorado
3rd place: Abigayle Feyereisen, Spearfish, South Dakota
11-12 Year Old Softball Division
1st place: Jarlyn Kechter, Vona, Colorado
2nd place: Graecyn Graf, Strasburg, Colorado
3rd place: Rihan Rosario, Worland, Wyoming
13-14 Year Old Softball Division
1st place: Morgan Peterson, Grand Island, Nebraska
2nd place: Brooke Wright, Worland, Wyoming
3rd place: Alyssa Maestas, Fowler, Colorado
7-8 Year Old Baseball Division
1st place: Hawk Hunter, Bluffdale, Utah
2nd place: Porter Stender, Superior, Colorado
3rd place: Sam Heyborne, Grand Junction, Colorado
9-10 Year Old Baseball Division
1st place: Ethan Ambruster, Laramie, Wyoming
2nd place: Cohen Allred, Rocky Ford, Colorado
3rd place: Parker Shahan, Herriman, Utah
11-12 Year Old Baseball Division
1st place: Lucas Stone, Eaton, Colorado
2nd place: Gabriel Grandy, Castle Rock, Colorado
3rd place: Gentre Coulter, Baker, Montana
13-14 Year Old Baseball Division
1st place: Kaidon Feyereisen, Spearfish, South Dakota
2nd place: Kimball Tamala, Eagle Mountain, Utah
3rd place: Wyatt Walters, Strasburg, Colorado
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver.