ST. PETERSBURG -- Robbing home runs wasn't part of the Rays team championship round of Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run, but that wasn't going to stop the 7-to-14-year-olds gathered at Tropicana Field on Sunday from doing it.
Taking the field after the Rays' 5-0 loss to the Mariners, the participants warmed up for the Pitch, Hit & Run event, sponsored by Scotts, by long-tossing, doing high-knees and, of course, lobbing balls to each other to rob at the right-field fence -- because it's not every day that a kid gets to step onto Major League turf.
Connor Hallman, who won the 9-10-year-old boys division, only needed two words to describe how he felt on the field:
All 24 competitors were recognized with a short pregame ceremony along the first-base line, and the event itself was held after the game. The winners of each age and gender division will have a chance to advance to the national round of Pitch, Hit & Run if their scores are among the top three nationally in their division.
Bennett Mayfield, the representative from Pitch, Hit & Run headquarters who coordinated Sunday's event, said it was an impressive accomplishment just to make it to the team championship round. He talked about the program afterward.
"Well, it's a free program, No. 1, which is obviously encouraging -- but more importantly, it gives the kids an opportunity to advance," Mayfield said. "It is a competition. The winners from today have the chance now to go to the All-Star Game and compete in the national finals of Pitch, Hit & Run, shag Home Run Derby balls and basically be treated like an All-Star during MLB All-Star week."
During the competition Sunday, the young ballplayers had to pitch six baseballs at a 17-by-30-inch target 45 feet away (girls used softballs and pitched from 35 feet), run 160 feet around the bases -- from just past second, around third and to the plate -- and hit balls off a tee, which were judged for distance and accuracy.
The Pitch, Hit & Run event features 600,000 participants nationwide, competing in 4,100 local competitions. The 30 team championship rounds will conclude June 28.
The winners of each division were Morgen Talley (7-8 girls), Samantha Sherer (9-10 girls), Sarah Perez (11-12 girls), Kelsea Corbin (13-14 girls), Skyler Thomas (7-8 boys), Hallman (9-10 boys), Shomari Ford (11-12 boys) and Ayden Gallegos (13-14 boys).
Sherer made it to the national round of the competition two years ago in the 8-9-year-old girls division, and was impressive in all three phases of the competition on Sunday.
Hallman, who also won his team championship round last year as an 8-year-old, wasn't the only Hallman in the competition -- his brother, Cole, came in second in the 11-12-year-old boys division as a first-time participant. Cole had the best pitching round of any competitor, throwing five of his six pitches for strikes with a smooth, consistent delivery.
Connor threw one strike but made up for it in the hitting and running rounds -- and surprised himself in the process.
"I can't believe I made it with only one pitch hit," Connor said. "That's crazy."
Sunday's results were:
7-8-year-old girls division
1st -- Morgen Talley; 2nd -- Mallory Ness; 3rd -- Baylee Cameron
9-10-year-old girls division
1st -- Samantha Sherer; 2nd -- Brooke Mucerino; 3rd -- Jessica Wagner
11-12-year-old girls division
1st -- Sarah Perez; 2nd -- Samira Maali; 3rd -- Nyanna McCaskill
13-14-year-old girls division
1st -- Kelsea Corbin; 2nd -- Katie Wolfe; 3rd -- Sydney Mills
7-8-year-old boys division
1st -- Skyler Thomas; 2nd -- Austin Benoit; 3rd -- James King
9-10-year-old boys division
1st -- Connor Hallman; 2nd -- Patrick Fink; 3rd -- Keahi Louderback
11-12-year-old boys division
1st -- Shomari Ford; 2nd -- Cole Hallman; 3rd -- Isiah Cleveland
13-14-year-old boys division
1st -- Ayden Gallegos; 2nd -- Zack Treadway; 3rd -- Michael Vandertulip
David Adler is an associate reporter for MLB.com.