Astros celebrate Pitch, Hit & Run finalists

Regional team championship takes place at Minute Maid Park on Sunday

HOUSTON -- Prior to Sunday afternoon's Astros-White Sox game at Minute Maid Park, 12 girls and 12 boys in four age divisions competed in the Pitch, Hit & Run Presented by Scotts competition with an opportunity to qualify for the finals at the All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

First-place winners were determined for the Astros team championship Sunday morning in ages 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14 for each group.

"The ones who make it to the All-Star Game are the cream of the crop, the top of the top," PHR representative Matt Engleka said. "These kids here today are champions just for making it this far in the Houston marketplace.

"They've earned their way here. Whether today is the greatest day or the worst day, they're all champions just for getting this far, because it's a huge honor for them being here."

The eight winning participants were celebrated during an on-field presentation before Sunday's game.

There will be a PHR team championship at every Major League ballpark over the next four weeks. The first-place winners will be ranked from 1-30 in scoring, with the top three in each age and gender group advancing to the national finals for the July 14 All-Star Game.

This is the 17th year of the PHR program. The finalist will shag fly balls at the Home Run Derby and attend the All-Star Game at Great American Ball Park.

The three participants in each age group on Sunday were from either Texas, Louisiana or Mississippi -- the areas that constitute the Astros' market.

"It was just fun," said Drake Jackson of Texas City, Texas, who placed first in the 13-14 boys division. "I'm just glad I could come out here and compete with these guys. I did pretty well in hitting, I didn't do as well in pitching."

Jackson, who tried out for a Mickey Mantle League on Saturday, was hitting 280-290 feet off the tee on Sunday.

The girls threw softballs from 35 feet and the boys threw baseballs from 45 feet. They had six attempts and each strike was worth 75 points. In the running competition, competitors started from just past in front of second base, rounded third and finished at home plate.

Points are based on a conversion table with all three events weighed equally.

PHR is involved with about 4,500 youth organizations across the nation, including the YMCA and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

This is the third year Jackson has competed in PHR, finishing second in the Astros' team championship the previous two years.

"I like it. It's just a fun thing to do," Jackson said. "Not a lot of kids can say they can go out and play on a Major League Baseball field. Last year, I couldn't hit the ball good, and the first year, I couldn't pitch."

Pitching was vital for Chloe Villareal of Wharton, Texas, who finished first in the 13-14 girls division.

"I'm proud because two years ago I got second here, I really tried hard," said Villareal, who is a big fan of PHR. "It's really good, it tries to help to get experience with hitting, throwing and running."

The age group winners on Sunday at Minute Maid Park -- 7-8 girls: Tess Stephenson, Houston; 9-10 girls: Brooklyn Jaeger, Fayetteville, Texas; 11-12 girls: Abbey Smith, Austin, Texas; 13-14 girls: Chloe Villareal, Wharton, Texas; 7-8 boys: Jayden Pena, Lane City, Texas; 9-10 boys: Luke Knape, Friendswood, Texas; 11-12 boys: Sam Brown, Houston, Texas; 13-14 boys: Drake Jackson, Texas City, Texas .

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.