Dodgers host Pitch, Hit & Run competition

Dodgers host Pitch, Hit & Run competition

Dodgers host Pitch, Hit & Run competition
LOS ANGELES -- Ever wonder what a Major League stadium is like before 8 a.m.?

Well, before Dodgers stars like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw arrived on Friday, 24 boys and girls found out the answer to that question when they took the field at Dodger Stadium as part of the Pitch, Hit & Run competition.

With a cloud of morning fog hanging over the ballpark and the 56,000-seat stadium empty -- aside from a few dozen parents in the stands near the left-field pole and the grounds crew -- the young baseball and softball players took turns hitting off a tee, running the bases and throwing at a strike zone.

"It's not every day you get to go to a Major League Baseball stadium," said Emma Hotaling, from Morro Bay, Calif. "It's so amazing. It was so crazy when I first stepped onto the field. It's just so big. I was really blessed to be here."

Hotaling came in first place for the girls' 13-14 division. Kids between the ages of 7 and 14 came out trying to earn a spot in the national finals during All-Star weekend in Kansas City.

There were four age divisions for each gender and three kids in each age group. All 30 teams host the event and the top three finishers for each each group and gender advance to Kansas City.

"It's a very special experience for these kids to get on an MLB field," said Abby Lane, a coordinator from Pitch, Hit & Run. "You see their eyes go wide and they get a little nervous, but it's very cool for them."

The program started in 1997 and it is a free event for all boys and girls. The competition starts at the local level and followed by a sectional round. The next round is the MLB team championship, which took place Sunday for the Dodgers, and the best 24 in the country advance to the All-Star Game.

Each boy and girl started with the hitting portion with three swings off a tee set up in left field. After that, the participants got to throw six pitches at a strike zone and then simulated running the distance from second to home while cones were set up in center field.

Hotaling said she was nervous at first and tried to hit the ball too hard and struggled with her first throw. But once she calmed her nerves, things started to pick up, adding that the highlight of the day was all the fun she had on the field.

Zireon Weatherspoon, from North Las Vegas, Nev., said the highlight was how much fun the morning was as well.

Nevertheless, Weatherspoon, who won the boys' 13-14 division, said despite the fun and games that it was a definite competition.

Like Hotaling and many of the other participants, it was his first time on the field and he said it was an amazing feeling getting to walk in the outfield where his favorite player, Andre Ethier, plays.

"It was like a dream come true," he said. "I wish I could come out here and play all the time.

"But I'm going to be out here in like five years," he added with a confident smile.