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Area kids compete in annual Pitch, Hit & Run event

Top finishers may earn trip to compete at Citi Field during All-Star week

On Friday night, Mark Stewart sat at Great American Ball Park and watched Jay Bruce hit the game-winning home run against the Brewers in the bottom of the 10th. Just a few hours later on Saturday morning, he saw his son, Levi, step into the very same batter's box as a participant in Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run competition.

"This is really neat," Mark Stewart said. "When I was about his age, it was back at Riverfront [Stadium], we were able to come out and take infield. That, to me, was incredible. I still remember it. My dad still remembers and talks about it all the time. Now I kind of feel like it's a new stadium, but it's still the Reds and it's reliving memories from that. This is something that's basically once in a lifetime, and to have it be his favorite team, it's just perfect."

Levi Stewart, 13, was one of 24 boys and girls ages 7-14 competing on Saturday at Great American Ball Park. Separated by gender and split into four different age groups, the participants challenged each other at the plate, with their arms and on the basepaths.

The morning started with each competitor throwing at a 17-by-30-inch target, the boys from 45 feet and the girls from 35. Next, they hit off of a tee, scored on how far the ball went in the air and how close they kept it to a string running from home plate into center field. To wrap up the day, the kids were timed as they raced from second base to home. Scores were then added up to decide a winner in each age group. They were recognized before Saturday's game against the Brewers, which all of the kids were invited to attend with their families.

To even make it to Saturday's event, the participants first had to win their local Pitch, Hit & Run events to qualify for a regional competition. The top three scorers in the region were then selected to move on. The same process was carried out throughout the country, and all 30 Major League parks hosted a final qualifier.

Now, it's a waiting game. Saturday's winners will have their scores compared to the other 29 top finishers in their age group, with the highest three scorers invited to the All-Star Game at Citi Field in New York. There, the final competition will be held to determine a national winner.

"The first-place winners today are keeping their fingers crossed," said Amy Ashbrock, who's been working with Pitch, Hit & Run for 11 years. "Hopefully they'll get to enjoy the experience of a lifetime at the All-Star Game this year."

For Max Johnson, a Mason, Ohio, native and the winner of the 9-10-year-old boys age division, he's hoping to advance to the final stage of competition for the second time, having already accomplished that feat two years ago.

Although Saturday wasn't a new experience for Johnson, he was still in awe of being on the same field as the players he admires. Going back to the All-Star Game would be even better, though.

"That was awesome," Johnson said of competing at the D-backs' Chase Field in 2011. "All the players were talking to us, we got to shag fly balls and we got awesome seats for the All-Star Game."

In all, Ashbrock said more than 600,000 boys and girls from 4,000 different communities competed in this year's Pitch, Hit & Run, a program that was started in 1996. And although his son was not the top finisher in his age group, Mark Stewart said he loves seeing so many kids playing the game.

"As my kids grew up, you kind of see some of the interest in baseball waning a little bit, but I know with Levi, it's still his first love," Mark Stewart said. "Anything that we can do to at least keep the interest up -- maybe spark some interest -- is good. This is the best part of baseball. These kids are doing it because they love it, not because they're getting paid. It's not a job for them. It's kind of like what baseball is all about."

Final results for Cincinnati's Pitch, Hit & Run:

7-8-year-old Girls Age Division
Haylee Allen, Campbellsville, Ky., first
Kaylin Washmuth, Hamilton, Ohio, second
Renae Cunningham, Heath, Ohio, third

9-10-year-old Girls Age Division
Dylan Scott, Burlington, Ky., first
Keira Moore, Newburgh, Ind., second
Kayleigh Michael, Eaton, Ohio, third

11-12-year-old Girls Age Division
Karlie Jackson, Cincinnati, Ohio, first
Autumn Henderson, Campbellsville, Ky., second
Araya Musselman, Arcanum, Ohio, third

13-14-year-old Girls Age Division
Kasi Schneid, Richmond, Ky., first
Elese Boylson, Cincinnati, Ohio, second
Shawna Osborne, Greenville, Ohio, third

7-8-year-old Boys Age Division
Trenton Collins, Heath, Ohio, first
Robbie Verst, California, Ky., second
Matthew Heinen, Mason, Ohio, third

9-10-year-old Boys Age Division
Max Johnson, Mason, Ohio, first
Jarrod Bahr, Blue Ash, Ohio, second
Sam Mann, Gilbertsville, Ohio, third

11-12-year-old Boys Age Division
Travis Wiser, Lebanon, Ky., first
Jack Heitbrink, Minster, Ohio, second
Daylin Crabtree, Owensboro, Ky., third

13-14-year-old Boys Age Division
Bryson McNay, Sellersburg, Ind., first
Zach Milliken, Cincinnati, Ohio, second
Levi Stewart, Riverside, Ohio, third

Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for

Cincinnati Reds