Philly hosts Junior Home Run Derby regional

PHILADELPHIA -- About 160 participants turned out Sunday morning in the largest regional event of this year's MLB Junior Home Run Derby.

"It's great to see so many kids here. It's the biggest turnout we've had," said Kabir Faiz, an account coordinator with the LEJ Sports Group, which runs the Junior Home Run Derby at eight different regional finals across the country. "There are kids here from Philly and New Jersey, but it stretches far beyond. It's all over the East Coast."

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The young power hitters were separated into two different age groups: 14-and-under and 12-and-under, with the latter competing on a slightly smaller field. All players who qualified for Sunday's event earned a spot through a more localized qualifying event earlier in the spring.

Each player got 20 pitches out of a machine in the first round, and the top four home run hitters in each age group advanced to the final round. In the finals, each player again got 20 pitches after the scores were reset.

Jack Bulger of Bowie, Md. was the champion of the 14-and-under group, while Thomas Shelton (Pelham, N.Y.) was the top slugger in the 12-and-under bracket. Both Bulger and Shelton will be swinging on the West Coast next month in the Junior Home Run Derby National Championship, which takes place at Petco Park in San Diego during MLB All-Star week.

While only two players got the trip to San Diego, Sunday provided a memorable experience for every hitter as they competed at the Phillies Urban Youth Academy in South Philadelphia, just a few blocks away from Citizens Bank Park.

Each player got their own T-shirt, Junior Home Run Derby certificate and a ticket to the Phillies tilt against the D-backs on Sunday afternoon. They also had a reason to bring their gloves as players tracked down fly balls in the outfield during other hitters' at-bats.

"It's a fun experience, they really enjoy it," Faiz said,. "They get to go out there, get a lot of swings in and shag some balls when they're waiting their turn. It's a great event because there are so many talented young baseball players here. These are the power hitters from their areas, and it gives them a cool showcase."

It's a good thing Bulger and Shelton got some experience playing the outfield during a home run derby, because they're going to need it. The 16 Junior Home Run Derby finalists will be some of the kids tasked with shagging fly balls during the MLB Home Run Derby on July 11 in San Diego. It's the first year the finalists from the event will get to do so, and they'll join players from the Pitch, Hit and Run program at Petco Park.

"We're there the entire Home Run Derby. There's some other kids from Pitch, Hit and Run and players' kids and we all kind of rotate throughout the experience, and the kids have a blast," Faiz said. "It's cool, the crowd is loud and it's a great culmination of this whole experience."

Stephen Pianovich is a contributor to based in Philadelphia. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.