BALTIMORE -- As they lined up at the Home Plate Plaza outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards to pick up their green T-shirts and hats on Saturday morning, some kids flashed nervous smiles. Others didn't display the slightest of grins, maintaining their game faces.While waiting to file into the ballpark,
BALTIMORE -- As they lined up at the Home Plate Plaza outside Oriole Park at Camden Yards to pick up their green T-shirts and hats on Saturday morning, some kids flashed nervous smiles. Others didn't display the slightest of grins, maintaining their game faces.
While waiting to file into the ballpark, a handful of children relaxed by playing catch with their families.
"This is the best part about baseball," one parent exclaimed.
After saying goodbye to their parents, the young players moved in groups down the elevators to the bottom floor, carrying backpacks full of bats, helmets and gloves. The 24 participants stood in silence under the dim basement lights before shuttling onto the field and waiting in the dugout for the competition to begin.
While the participants gradually loosened up, flashing smiles, befriending the other competitors and taking photos for their parents, it was all business for them.
Pitch, Hit & Run, the "Official Youth Skills Competition of Major League Baseball," invites kids to demonstrate their pitching, hitting and running abilities in baseball and softball. The competition coincides with the "PLAY BALL" initiative between Major League Baseball, USA Baseball and USA Softball, which encourages widespread participation in all forms of baseball/softball activities among all age groups. The baseball and softball players ranging from ages 7-14 were playing for a chance at a trip to the All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in Miami next month.
"I had a bunch of parents tell me it's a dream come true for them to see their kids out there and for their kids to get to compete out there," event coordinator Jason Bethea said. "They do get a little nervous. Once they get their first couple of pitches down, most of them are usually good to go. You can tell they're all having a good time."
The 24 youngsters qualified for Saturday's event after winning their local and sectional competitions in Maryland and Delaware. The winners will be compared with the champions in the 29 other Major League ballparks. The contestants with the three best scores in each age group will win a free trip to Miami for All-Star Weekend.
The events featured throwing a ball at a target, hitting a ball off a tee and racing to home plate from second base. The winners included Amanda Redmiles (7-8-year-old softball), Logan Furst (7-8-year-old baseball), Layla Burtnick (9-10-year-old softball), Gavin Weber (9-10-year-old baseball), Gina Stevens (11-12-year-old softball), Drew Simpson (11-12-year-old baseball), Shannon O'Ferrall (13-14-year-old softball) and Jonathan Carrion (13-14-year-old baseball).
Across the country, Bethea said about 650,000 kids compete at the local level. Even for O'Ferrall, who has played at Camden Yards before, another opportunity to compete on a Major League field was surreal.
"It was better than last time," O'Ferrall said. "It was incredible. The field's amazing."
O'Ferrall shook off her pre-competition jitters, similar to Carrion, who said he was anxious all morning on his hour-long drive from New Castle, Del. He was relieved after thriving in the pitching aspect and finishing first in his age group.
But Carrion said those nervous butterflies will return soon. He won't find out if he's selected to attend the All-Star Game until June 26.
"They always wait on pins and needles for that announcement for the All-Star Game," Bethea said. "It's definitely exciting."
The second annual Play Ball Weekend features a variety of youth engagement activities by nearly 200 Major League and Minor League clubs to highlight the fun of youth baseball and softball. It is a complementary program of the Play Ball initiative, designed by MLB to celebrate youth baseball and softball participation. MLB has provided clubs with more than 300,000 youth plastic bat and ball sets to distribute in both ballparks and at community events.
Many MLB clubs are hosting skills and physical fitness clinics as well as surprise "takeovers" of youth baseball and softball games or practices featuring appearances by Major League players, alumni, mascots, public address announcers and more. Activities will include kids participating in special news conferences, pregame meet-and-greets and catches with players, ceremonial first pitches, public address duties, lineup card exchanges, taking the field with players, postgame running the bases and more. Major League players, coaches and managers will wear Play Ball Weekend patches during the weekend's games, and players on home clubs will wear custom T-shirts during batting practice on the date of their club's activations.
Teams that are on the road Saturday and Sunday will host their Play Ball Weekend activities during another homestand.
Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C.