MINNEAPOLIS -- A big smile stretched across Zach Parks' face when he earned yet another Pitch, Hit & Run title Saturday at Target Field.
He quickly had to wipe it off and wait for the official announcement, but that didn't stop him from relishing his fourth plaque in Major League Baseball's youth skills competition. Even as a veteran of the event, the 14-year-old still felt nervous, but performed coolly regardless of jitters.
"It felt good," Parks said. "I got pretty nervous, but you've just got to push that to the side and try your best."
Parks was one of 22 kids who made their way to Target Field for a chance to not only win their region in their age division, but to also win a trip to the national competition during the All-Star break.
Competitors were split into four age groups by gender. Each took turns throwing six pitches, attempting to get as many strikes as possible, along with hitting three balls off a tee -- judged on distance -- and finally were timed on running from just past second base to home.
Competition began at a local level and continued through to a regional team championship level, hosted at all 30 Major League ballparks. The top competitors nationwide in their age group will move onto the national competition -- an event Parks has already visited and which his brother won last year.
"Nationals was a blast," Parks said. "You got to meet the players. You got to get autographs. You got to interact with them. You got to do all kinds of fun stuff there.
"It doesn't really matter if you win, it matters if you go."
Parks, of Lakeville, Minn., placed first in the boys' 13-14 age group and was joined by Matthew Mors (11-12) of Yankton, S.D., Tanner Gerke (9-10) of Manson, Iowa, and Christopher Peters (7-8) of Rosenort, Manitoba, Canada.
On the girls' side, Jackie Shimota of Webster, Minn., claimed the 13-14 title, Kora Kritzberger of Ada, Minn., took the 11-12 age group, Kaitlin Johnson of Perham, Minn., took first in the 9-10 age group and Tessany Blazek of Greenbush, Minn., took the 7-8 age group.
In its 17th year, the Pitch Hit & Run competition is about getting kids interested in the sport -- in both baseball and softball -- and involves the basic fundamentals as Pitch, Hit & Run representative Matt Engelka noted. Beyond getting down the fundamentals, the kids get the rare chance to walk on the same grass as their favorite baseball heroes.
"The support from the teams and the MLB is fantastic," Engelka said. "Every kid that comes out here and participates, they have their idols. They want to play where their idols play and be able to walk on the same field. The opportunity for them to walk out here at Target Field, they have heroes that they worship that they see play every single night. Now they're going to be able to stand out there and do exactly the same thing."
Kelly Erickson is an associate reporter for MLB.com.