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ROIT -- For Drew Blakely, waking up at 5:30 a.m. and making the two-plus hour drive with his family from Galesburg, Mich., to Comerica Park was worth it for one last hoorah in the Pitch, Hit & Run competition.
Blakely, a 14-year-old in his last year eligible to take part in the PHR event, was one of 24 kids from across the state who -- after making it through the local and sectional rounds -- was invited by the Tigers to compete for a chance to win a trip to Kansas City and take part in the national finals during All-Star weekend.
"This is my last chance," he said. "Hopefully I can win this one and look forward to the future at this point."
To earn the trip, the kids -- three boys and three girls from four age groups ranging from 7-14 -- needed to finish in first place Saturday morning and then their scores would be compared against the first-place winners from each of the 30 Major League team markets with the top three advancing.
For Blakely, it was a process he was quite familiar with. Saturday marked the sixth time he's made it to Comerica Park, and after hitting "the best he has in a competition," he hopes to add a third trip to the national finals to his resume.
"Those experiences were amazing," said Blakely, referring to his first two trips as a finalist to the 2006 All-Star Game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh and 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium at eight years old and 10 years old, respectively. "Whenever you're there, you're treated like a king. It's just amazing ... It's honestly an experience of a lifetime."
It's also an experience Blakely will never forget. At Yankee Stadium, he got to meet his favorite player, Josh Hamilton, for the first time, right before the Rangers outfielder submitted a record-setting performance in the Home Run Derby.
"I got autographs and got to meet him," he said. "And then I got to see his performance when he hit 28 home runs in [the first round]."
As a finalist, Blakely didn't just get to witness it, but was part of it. He was one of the kids shagging fly balls in the outfield. Unfortunately, with Hamilton not leaving many in the park, he didn't get to catch one.
"I wish I could say I did," he said.
Whereas Blakely knew exactly what to expect, the winner of the girls 13/14-year-old division, Hannah Vera-Burgos, wasn't quite as sure. Although she made it to the regional finals at Comerica Park as a 12-year-old, she admitted to having an "off day"
The second time around, Vera-Burgos didn't have those issues. She hit and ran well and then finished off the day by hitting the strike zone all six times in the pitching event, which even made her Dad belt out a "Yeah Hannah!" from the crowd of family members.
"I was really excited," she said. "I'm really happy to do it because my Dad really wanted this and I really wanted it too. My brother did it a few years ago and he made it to San Francisco [as a finalist], so I really wanted to follow in his footsteps."
Vera-Burgos joked that she can't hear the end of how awesome the trip was from her Dad and brother. Now, she and Blakely, along with the six other winners, will wait until the evening of June 24 for the finalists for each age group to be announced on MLB Network.
"I'm kind of nervous," Veras-Burgos said, "but at the same time I'm kind of confident."