Pitch, Hit & Run competition comes to Safeco

SEATTLE -- Although they were competing in the youngest age divisions, DJ and Aliah Karl turned an impressive double play in the Scotts Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run team competition at Safeco Field.

DJ and Aliah, twins from Edmonds, Wash., were among the 24 participants who advanced through local and regional competitions to showcase their baseball or softball skills on the field at Safeco following Sunday's game between the Rangers and Mariners.

The Seattle Mariners Team Competition included qualifiers from Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Montana, as well as British Columbia. There were four age-group divisions each for softball and baseball -- 7-8-year-olds; 9-10; 11-12 and 13-14.

DJ Karl won the 7-8-year-old baseball division, while Aliah -- who said she has only played softball for one year -- finished second in the 7-8 softball division.

"This is our first time here," said 8-year-old Aliah, adding that the running segment -- where participants go from second base to home -- was her favorite part of the competition.

DJ brought a unique and multifaceted perspective to the competition.

"I'm left-handed in batting but right in throwing," he said. "I write left-handed."

The twins' mother, Martha Karl, said DJ's throwing preference was discovered accidentally.

"When I took him to practice the first time, I had a left-handed mitt," she said. "After two weeks of practice, I picked him up one day and I realized that he had been borrowing the coach's mitt. And I said, 'Oh, what happened to your mitt?' And then the coach kind of laughed and said, 'You bought him the wrong mitt.'"

"I said, 'No, he's left-handed.' But he already had been playing for two weeks as a right-hander, so we just let him continue," she said. "And he seemed to be doing fine."

First-place finishers for softball were Kaelee Kolden, 7-8, Post Falls, Idaho; Sophia Zufelt, 9-10, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Kaiea Higa, 11-12, Maple Valley, Wash.; and Carly Carraher, 13-14, Portland, Ore.

Baseball division winners were DJ Karl, 7-8, Edmonds, Wash.; Avery Cherry, 9-10, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; Cayden Wotipka, 11-12, Edmonds, Wash.; and JT Baer, 13-14, Colstrip, Mont.

Higa, who had a perfect 6-for-6 on her pitching, finished eighth at the national finals two years ago.

"I've been practicing a lot at home, just getting a lot of reps in," said Higa, who has competed before and was a perfect 6-for-6 on her pitching. "I was a little more comfortable, no first-time nerves."

The scores of Sunday's winners will be compared with scores from the other 29 team championships across the country. The three highest scores nationally in each age group in softball and in baseball will compete in the National Finals in San Diego during MLB's 2016 All-Star Week festivities at Petco Park.

The National Finalists will be announced live on MLB Network on June 27. Pitch, Hit & Run, in its 20th season, is the official skills competition of Major League Baseball.

Jim Hoehn is a contributor to MLB.com based in Seattle. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.