Cubs host 24 kids for PHR competition

Cubs host 24 kids for PHR competition

CHICAGO -- Twenty-four boys and girls ages 7 through 14 gathered at Wrigley Field at 7 a.m. CT on Sunday, and they looked upon the ivy and ran on the same field as some of their heroes.

There was a fun vibe in the air, but something at stake, too.

Wrigley Field hosted the team competition round of Scotts Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run program, where contestants competed for the chance at a trip to 2016 All-Star Game presented by MasterCard in San Diego.

"It's fun," said 14-year-old Ryan Kudia, from Brookfield, Ill. "It's competitive. But you still get to hang out. You still get to enjoy being on a field and experiencing something that might never happen again."

Contestants reached this point by advancing through local and sectional competitions. The challenge consists of a hitting-distance competition off a tee, a strike-throwing round and a timed sprint.

All 30 MLB clubs are hosting team championships at their ballparks on weekends from May 28 through June 26.

The top three competitors nationwide from each age group will advance to the national finals during All-Star Week.

Anthony Nalbuno, from Bartlett, Ill., won the 13- and 14-year-old baseball group Sunday. He said he joined the program because of a coach who told him it could be a great experience.

"You can get to the All-Star Game, but it's a great opportunity to just step on Wrigley Field and it's a great way to play baseball," Nalbono said.

Some competitors such as Ciara Herbert and Mason Gersdorf were back for their second year, and Herbert won the 13- and 14-year-old softball group for the second time. She and the other winners won't know whether they will reach the finals until after all the team rounds are complete. Herbert didn't make it last year, and though she hopes to this year, that didn't have her worried.

"You get to meet a lot of new people," said Herbert, from Riverside, Ill.. "There's no stress about winning. It's just coming out here to have fun.

Other winners were Katherine MacLeod (7-8 softball), Jessica Clemons (9-10 softball), Jordan Armbruster (11-12 softball) Gavin Burton (7-8 baseball), Adam Hinkleman (9-10 baseball) and Matthew Mittlestadt (11-12 baseball).

At the end of the competition, Gersdorf -- from Davenport, Iowa -- turned toward Nalbono and Kudia, the two other competitors in his group, and motioned toward them.

"I met these two," Gersdorf said. "They're pretty awesome. And you're at Wrigley. When else does everybody just get to stand in left field and play baseball?"

Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.