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Yankee Stadium hosts Pitch, Hit & Run

NEW YORK -- They gathered at Gate 2, nervously fidgeting and playing catch to warm up before squeezing in last-second trips to the restroom.

Their parents encouraged them to soak in Yankee Stadium, pointing out that the kids were sitting in the same dugout as Derek Jeter had so many times before.

But even though the contestants of Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run Presented by Scotts did pause to pose for pictures to appease their eager parents, Saturday morning was mostly business for the competitors hoping to earn themselves a trip to the All-Star Game in Cincinnati in July.

The 24 contestants, boys and girls between the ages of 7 and 14, had each won at local and sectional levels before heading to Yankee Stadium. Saturday saw each participant throw six pitches at a target, hit balls off a tee and complete a timed sprint. The winners will learn on the final Sunday of June if their scores -- compared with those of other winners around the country -- are strong enough to get them to the All-Star Game.

"We try to make it fun for all kids and then also expose kids to baseball and softball at the grassroots level," said event coordinator Kelly Peterson. "Some kids who compete have barely even touched a baseball before."

But that wasn't the case for winners Hampton Sanders, 10, and Noah Barber, 14, who won their respective divisions. Both have competed in the event multiple times, but Barber has never been to the All-Star Game and Sanders had never advanced past the sectional competition.

Barber, the oldest of eight siblings and a native of Cortland, N.Y., said his motivation was his city.

"It would mean a lot to get [to the All-Star game], because I'm mainly doing this for Cortland," he said.

As for Sanders, it was his father -- who has served as his coach for five years -- who got him involved in the contest.

"I started playing T-ball, and after that I just started to love baseball. My dad found out about the Pitch, Hit & Run competition, and that's why I'm here now," Sanders said. "The first two years, I got to sectionals, but I haven't been able to come here. Now I'm here and I might have a chance for the All-Star Game, so it's just a blessing and an honor to be here."

Now Sanders, Barber and the other six New York Yankees winners must wait to learn if they'll go to Cincinnati.

Sanders -- also a point guard on an AAU basketball team -- has a plan to pass the time.

"I'm really into the finals for basketball, so I'm probably going to keep that on my mind," he said. "I'm pulling for Golden State."

Grace Raynor is an associate reporter for
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