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Kids vie for DC trip at Royals' Pitch, Hit & Run

MLB.com

KANSAS CITY -- As the grounds crew pulled the tarp off the field at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday and the fresh June sun began to cut through the blanket of clouds that lined the sky, the 24 participants in this year's Scotts Major League Pitch, Hit & Run event took off on a jog around the warning track, ready to compete for a trip to the 2018 MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.

While the potential of a trip to the nation's capital may have been on the minds of the competitors, they still didn't take for granted how far they had already come. Colby Deaver, the 11/12-year-old baseball division champion who qualified from Blue Springs, Mo., relished the opportunity to be so close to the highest level of the game he loves.

KANSAS CITY -- As the grounds crew pulled the tarp off the field at Kauffman Stadium on Saturday and the fresh June sun began to cut through the blanket of clouds that lined the sky, the 24 participants in this year's Scotts Major League Pitch, Hit & Run event took off on a jog around the warning track, ready to compete for a trip to the 2018 MLB All-Star Game in Washington, D.C.

While the potential of a trip to the nation's capital may have been on the minds of the competitors, they still didn't take for granted how far they had already come. Colby Deaver, the 11/12-year-old baseball division champion who qualified from Blue Springs, Mo., relished the opportunity to be so close to the highest level of the game he loves.

"Getting to be out on the field and see some of the [Oakland] Athletics' players down in the dugout, and have some fun with my sport," Deaver said when asked what he enjoyed most about the experience.

Three participants for each age and gender group were brought to The K after qualifying through local competitions. They threw at a mock strike zone, hit balls off a tee and ran from second to home to try to again place in the Top 3 in their classifications among competitors at all 30 Major League ballparks and qualify for the finals in D.C. The winners will be announced July 2 on MLB Network.

While winning the Kansas City competition doesn't automatically qualify the kids for the trip, that doesn't mean they will leave empty-handed if they don't make it. As a surprise, the winner of each age and gender group got to meet Royals pitcher Jakob Junis before the game.

Junis was a national finalist at age 10, attending the 2003 All-Star Game at then-U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago.

"Was I 10?" a surprised Junis joked. "Is that how long ago that was?"

Tweet from @Royals: As a 10 year old in 2003, @jbljunis was a Pitch, Hit & Run Finalist. Today, he met this year's finalists at #TheK! pic.twitter.com/sYU1X50noP

The event served as the team's centerpiece for the MLB's Play Ball Weekend, a program chock full of activities to promote the game among local youth.

Royals pitchers Kevin McCarthy and Tim Hill joined team legends Willie Wilson and John Mayberry on Thursday to surprise kids downtown at the team's Urban Youth Academy. The team bus pulled up just as the group was about to begin practice, unexpectedly joining them on the field to teach them about the game.

"It's so big, just to have kids be able to go out every day and just be active at some point during the day," McCarthy said. "It's huge for their growing up and being healthy, and everything that covers that."

A select group of young baseball and softball players also took over the media's interview room before Saturday's game for a kids' press conference with Royals players and coaches. The kids asked a variety of different questions, ranging from goals on the field to simply what it's like to be in their shoes.

Manager Ned Yost particularly enjoyed the opportunity to connect with the kids. When asked what it was like to be a big-league skipper, he took the opportunity to emphasize the true purpose of the game -- which is what the weekend is really all about.

"It's fun," Yost said. "You get to have fun playing the game. I get to have fun watching you play and get better."

Jordan Wolf is a reporter for MLB.com based in Kansas City.

Kansas City Royals