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Youngsters take home titles in PHR finals

Eight crowned as champions in Pitch, Hit and Run contest
MLB.com

MIAMI -- A group of 24 youths ages seven to 14 shuffled into the first-base dugout at Marlins Park on Monday, waiting anxiously to take the field in attempt to become the 2017 Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run National Champions just 30 hours before the best players in Major League Baseball would take that very field.

Eight winners were crowned, four girls and four boys:

MIAMI -- A group of 24 youths ages seven to 14 shuffled into the first-base dugout at Marlins Park on Monday, waiting anxiously to take the field in attempt to become the 2017 Scotts Pitch, Hit & Run National Champions just 30 hours before the best players in Major League Baseball would take that very field.

Eight winners were crowned, four girls and four boys:

7-8 year-old division: Samantha Barton and Lukas Waite

9-10 year-old division: Mylia Perez and Sullivan Smith

11-12 year-old divsion: Macy Richardson and Jonathan Berus

13-14 year-old division: Abbey Smith and Joseph Henegar

"At home, in their backyards. That's where it all started and that's where the game starts," senior vice president of the youth baseball department of Major League Baseball Tony Reagins said. "We are excited that they have been able to accomplish what they've accomplished and be on this stage at All-Star Week and the festivities surrounding it."

The pre-event smiles quickly turned to game faces as the participants threw on their batting gloves and helmets to prepare for the hitting event. Each player took three cuts off a tee to see who could hit the ball the farthest as the big screen in center field reflected their every step, which Smith was not intimidated by.

"[It was] really cool," Smith said. "[But, I will remember] running 90 feet to each base. Yeah, [running is my favorite event]."

After each participant tossed six balls toward a net behind home plate to test their accuracy, they then moved to their unanimously favorite event -- a timed-run from second to home.

Both Perez -- who participated in the Pitch, Hit & Run event in San Diego last year -- and Abbey Smith, a five-time participant, were previous record holders in the running event of their own age groups and came out to post times of 8.88 seconds and 8.5 seconds, respectively.

"Yeah [being a returning participant] did help me out. It helped me learn to take my time and take deep breaths and not get nervous," Perez said. "[I was happy with my running performance] because at first I kind of felt nervous because my left leg was a little injured before here, but it turned out fine."

The participants celebrated the day with a trophy ceremony in the Marlins' media room after the event prior to shagging balls in Monday night's T-Mobile 2017 Home Run Derby, which is what the majority of the young players are most looking forward to.

"I am really looking forward to the Home Run Derby because I've seen them the past five years because that's when I started with this," Smith said. "I've always wanted to be one of those people, so finally I get to be and it's my last year so I'm pretty excited."

Pitch, Hit & Run invites kids to demonstrate their pitching, hitting and running abilities in baseball and softball. It works with the "Play Ball" initiative between Major League Baseball, USA Baseball and USA Softball, which encourages participation of baseball and softball activities.

"We had nearly 700,000 kids participate in the program this year," Reagins said. "With that being said, we want to do more. Create memories like this, have the kids go back into their communities and share the experience. We want more kids playing and I think the experience we are creating with these young people today helps us toward that goal."

Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com based in Baltimore.