"Baseball was made for kids," Hall of Famer Bob Lemon famously said, "and grown-ups only screw it up."On a clear Saturday morning at PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the only adults on hand were event organizers for Pitch, Hit & Run, a nation-wide event put on by Major League Baseball that gives children a chance to showcase their skills for a chance to earn a trip to this year's All-Star game in Kansas City on July 10. At each of the 30 events across the country, 12 boys and 12 girls get to participate in the team championship level. The ballplayers are split into age groups, of which there are four: 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. "We had some very good performances and a lot of smiles out there today," said Matt Hilley, a Pitch, Hit & Run representative. "I think everybody had a good time." The event began with the pitching portion. In a test of accuracy, each girl threw six softballs at a strike zone 35 feet away, while the boys threw baseballs at the same target from 45 feet away. Then followed the hitting, which allowed each batter to take three swings off a tee, standing in the same area that Andrew McCutchen calls his office. Again, softballs for girls and baseballs for boys. "It was very weird," Madison Wiltrout said about pitching with a softball. "It's different for hitting, too." A 13-year-old from Connellsville, Pa., Wiltrout is a baseball player who won her age division despite being uncomfortable playing with a softball. Her favorite part of the day was having the chance to show her speed on the basepaths, which came last. During that competition, runners took off for home from a spot where Major Leaguers typically lead off second. Wiltrout is one of more than 650,000 contestants who took a shot at Pitch, Hit & Run across the nation. More than 4,000 events were held at the local level to determine which children would be lucky enough to perform in a big league ballpark and become eligible for the All-Star Game extravaganza. "I know that the kids are always very excited here to be involved with the program," Hilley said. "We try to treat them like pros, and make sure they feel the Major League experience when they're out here." Wiltrout is one of eight children who won an age division Saturday at PNC Park. The other girls to finish first include Amanda Marbuger (7- and 8-year-old division), Peyton Feldman (9- and 10-year-old division) and Alexis Orton (11- and 12-year-old division). The boys who grabbed first place were Jake Johnson (7- and 8-year-old division), Drake Sypolt (9- and 10-year-old division), Ty Bender (11- and 12-year-old division) and Bryce Hensor (13- and 14-year-old division). Bender, an 11-year-old from Woodland, Pa., said his favorite part of the day was hitting. He doesn't know how far his longest whack went, but he put the estimate at 250 feet. What did Bender appreciate most about playing in PNC Park?
"Just how nice the field is," the young slugger said.Each kid who participated in Pitch, Hit & Run was given two tickets to attend Saturday evening's Tigers-Pirates game. Bender, Wiltrout and the other six winners will be honored for their efforts in a pregame ceremony. The eight of them are now part of a pool that features the winners of the Pitch, Hit & Run events at the other 29 ballparks across the country, as well. After each player is ranked, the top three team champions from each age group will go to Kansas City, where they'll get to show their skills on a national stage, shag fly balls during the Home Run Derby, and participate in all the other All-Star Game festivities. "Our national finalists have pretty much the baseball trip of a lifetime," Hilley said. "We're trying to make dreams come true."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.