CHICAGO -- As he scraped his cleats against the dirt and looked in at his target, Michael Oppegard didn't see himself as just a kid playing baseball.He saw himself as one of his big league heroes, pounding the strike zone repeatedly to help clinch a victory. Oppegard was one of
CHICAGO -- As he scraped his cleats against the dirt and looked in at his target, Michael Oppegard didn't see himself as just a kid playing baseball.
He saw himself as one of his big league heroes, pounding the strike zone repeatedly to help clinch a victory. Oppegard was one of eight local kids to claim first-place honors at the Scott's Pitch, Hit & Run event at Guaranteed Rate Field before the White Sox series finale against the A's on Sunday, claiming the title for baseball ages 9/10.
It was something Oppegard said he couldn't have imagined when the day began.
"I'm so excited," he said. "I didn't like really care if I won or not. I just wanted to be on a Major League field. It was amazing. I was so excited."
Just as excited was Oppegard's father, Michael Sr.
"It was one of the most memorable experiences of my life," Michael Sr. said. "I couldn't be prouder of him. The whole experience was just fantastic. My son's been playing since he was 4 years old, and it really gives us a chance to bond and learn together and see success and failures. Watching his successes through each round of this competition has been something special."
The Brookfield, Ill., native was one of 24 participants Sunday who took to the Major League field and tried to show off the best of their abilities. The kids, ranging from 7 to 14 years old, competed in three different events -- pitching, hitting and running.
Each participant showed off their inner Mark Buehrle by throwing six pitches on flat ground near the first-base dugout, tallying how many times they could hit the strike zone. During the batting portion, each of the 24 kids took three swings off a tee in left field, trying to see how far in the air they could hit the ball just like Frank Thomas. The running portion saw each participant run as fast as possible from second base to home plate, like Tim Anderson.
The eight winners were honored in a pregame ceremony Sunday, giving the kids another chance to take the field in a big league ballpark. Other winners included Neve Hayes (7/8 softball), Addison Herrin (9/10 softball), Lily Stewart (11/12 softball), Gloria Brewer (13/14 softball), Breydon Martin (7/8 baseball), Brayden Barrett (11/12 baseball) and Bryce Miller (13/14 baseball).
The 30 MLB team championships, which see kids from across the country participate in the event in big league ballparks, will wrap up Sunday. From there, select winners from each of the team champions will be selected to participate in the National Finals during the weekend of the MLB All-Star Game presented by MasterCard. Those participating will hear their names called on MLB Network on June 26.
If Oppegard is selected, it'll be the culmination of an unexpected, yet thrilling ride through the competition.
"It would be just incredible," Michael Sr. said. "Just the fact that he made it here today had us all extremely excited, but to win it and maybe be able to go to Miami. If that happened, that's just out of this world."
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, especially youth.
Fabian Ardaya is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago.