ST. PETERSBURG -- It was only 7:15 a.m. ET Sunday at the loading dock outside Tropicana Field, but 24 kids of all ages were awake and ready to play baseball. The Rays' grounds crew was still working on the infield dirt and sweeping the outfield turf. The Rays and Yankees had yet to arrive for their 1:10 p.m. game.
But the Pitch, Hit & Run event -- the official youth skills competition of Major League Baseball -- was just about to get started. Three kids from each age group (7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14) competed in a running, pitching and hitting drill. They had been selected from the sectional championships earlier in the spring. Their scores were tallied after Sunday's competition, with the winners becoming eligible to compete in the final round before the MLB All-Star Game in July in San Diego.
Each kid, lined up by gender and age, was timed running from second base to home plate. Then they each threw six pitches to a target on the outfield grass. The girls used a softball while the boys pitched with a baseball. The officials measured if the throw hit the strike zone. After that, they hit balls off a tee, with distance being measured after each swing. Each throw and swing was met with a round of applause from the camera-toting parents seated in section 144 in right field.
Before event coordinator Kelly Peterson announced the winners, she thanked the Rays' organization for hosting the event and had the kids give their parents a round of applause for making the trip to allow them to compete.
The eight winners were honored before the Rays-Yankees game Sunday afternoon. Every parent and child in attendance received tickets to watch the division rivals go at it.
This marks the 20th year of Pitch, Hit & Run. All Major League ballparks will host the third round of the competition at their home park through late June.
Sam Blum is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.