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Youngsters get taste of Majors in Pitch, Hit & Run

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Garcia has an open field in his backyard, but it's safe to say it looks nothing like where he played Sunday morning.

Tucked along the left- and center-field walls of the meticulously mantained Nationals Park, Garcia and 23 others ranging in age from 7-14 participated in the Pitch, Hit & Run Presented by Scotts.

Hitting posed the biggest problem for Garcia -- he couldn't get the tee at the right height -- but he made up for it by throwing more strikes in the pitching competition than anyone else in his age group.

Each participant received six balls, and stood a measured distance away. Garcia opted to throw overhand. Others tossed underhand, while some went through an entire pitching windup.

"I think I did all right," Garcia said after the competition. "Overall, I think at least I got second. That was the best I could do."

He did one better, taking home the first-place plaque for the 13-14 boys division.

The winners' scores will be ranked against the winners from the other 29 competitions around the league, and the top three participants from each age range in boys and girls groups will compete in the finale at the 2015 All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

Ryann Darling will have a chance for that, too. Despite getting a slow start out of the gate, battling nerves in the pitching section, she pulled away from her competition in the hitting and running events.

"I was actually kind of nervous at first," Darling said, "but after a while I was just like, "Oh, this is fine," and I got over it."

Darling pitches and plays the outfield for her softball team, and this was her first year making it this far in the event.

Across the nation, Scotts sponsors 4,500 local events welcoming over 600,000 participants. From there, those that qualify move on to the nearly 200 sectional events.

"This is beyond what we even imagined when we came here," Ryann's mom, Tracy, said. "We were thrilled that she even made it to this level to make it this far. So, to actually come out the first-place winner, we're beyond ecstatic."

Of course, Tracy was not the only nervous mom in the stands. That comes with the territory, and the players know it.

"Yeah, my mom was probably more nervous than me," Garcia said. "She was happy at the same time though."

Even those who didn't win, relished the opportunity to play where the big leaguers do.

One boy, recognizing he was in Denard Span territory, tossed himself a popup and caught it while he collided with the wall.

"I just wanted to see what it would be like," he said.

Kayla Stephens (7-8 girls), Jaylan Powroznick (9-10 girls), Rachel Blumenschine (11-12 girls), Ryann Darling (13-14 girls), Grady Lenahan (7-8 boys), Jonathan Phillips (9-10 boys), Ethan Yeager (11-12 boys) and Stephen Garcia (13-14 boys) finished in first-place in their age group.

Jacob Emert is an associate reporter for
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