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Iowa siblings stand out in Pitch, Hit & Run

CHICAGO -- Alex and Jessica Clemons are no strangers to the ivy walls at Wrigley Field. The brother and sister combo have made the nearly three-hour trip from Bettendorf, Iowa, with their family to Cubs games.

But Sunday afternoon was a bit different: They were the ones on the field competing.

Alex and Jessica were among 24 participants across Iowa, Indiana and Illinois to compete in Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run Presented by Scotts event. The event consists of throwing at a strike zone, hitting off a tee and running the bases.

This year's event saw a slight deviation, though, as temperatures in the low 40s with rain forced participants to run along the outfield wall with makeshift bases while the infield remained under the tarp. The inclement weather didn't stop competitors from leaving events smiling, joking with new friends and some even offering piggyback rides.

Alex Clemons, who competes with his travel baseball team, won the 11-12-year-old division to make his first appearance at the sectional level. He performed best in his age group in pitching, which explains why he might enjoy that event the most.

"My favorite is probably the pitching because I did the best in it," Clemons said, having some experience as a pitcher at home. "I'm pretty accurate, though."

There are more than 4,000 local competitions each year as participants must advance past local and sectional levels just to reach the team championship held in each Major League city between May 31 and June 27.

This year, Alex Clemons will have a chance to advance to the national finals competition during the week of the All-Star Game in Cincinnati, where the top three winners from each age group among all 30 teams will compete. The finalists will be announced June 28 on MLB Network.

Alex and Jessica practice together with Jessica's twin brother, Justin, for the competition. Jessica, who competed in the 9-10-year-old division, finished second for the second year in a row. But she's still happy to come out for the competition to compete in her favorite event, hitting.

"I'm not really the best at it, but I just like it," she said.

Alex and Jessica Clemons are in good company, as two current Major Leaguers -- Twins outfielder Chris Parmelee and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer -- are former participants. The program, which began in 1997 as a way to get more kids involved in baseball and softball, has sent dozens more into the Majors.

Winners in the girls division included Julia Benjamin in the 7-8-year-old age group, Kira Conroy among 9-10-year-old participants, Chloe Scroggins in the 11-12-year-old category as well as Ciara Herbert in the 13-14-year-old section.

Aside from Alex Clemons, boys' winners included Thomas Easley Jr. (7-8-year-old), Ryan Kondrad (9-10-year-old) and Mason Gersdorf (13-14-year-old).

Greg Garno is an associate reporter for
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