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DETROIT -- Kids from around the country had an opportunity to showcase their baseball skills at Comerica Park during Gatorade All-Star Workout Day on Monday afternoon.
Sixteen children, ages 7 to 14, participated in the Pepsi MLB Pitch, Hit & Run national finals. Four of them were crowned national champions of the competition, one from each of the age divisions.
The finalists advanced through two levels of local and sectional competitions to reach the national finals out of 564,000 Pitch, Hit & Run participants from 3,800 competitions across the country.
The top four youngsters from each of the divisions -- 7- to 8-year-olds, 9- to 10-year-olds, 11- to 12-year-olds and 13- to 14-year olds -- were invited to participate in the national finals, held during MLB's All-Star Week festivities. The national finals for the competition are held annually in a Major League ballpark, which is a special treat for the kids.
Luke Gentile, from Burlington Township, N.J., took first place in the 7- to 8-year-old division, while Garrett Hampson, of Reno, Nev., captured the 9- to 10-year-old division title. Luke Mamer, from Springfield, Ohio, won the 11- to 12-year-old division and Josh Elander, of Round Rock, Texas, was champion of the 13- to 14-year-old division.
This was the second national title for Mamer, 12, who won his first national championship in 2003 as a 10-year-old during All-Star Week at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. He said he has enjoyed being at Comerica Park as well.
"It's awesome, it's one of the best parks I've ever been to," Mamer said. "It's really big and I like all the statues and billboards."
Mamer has been involved in Pitch, Hit & Run for three years. He said he has learned a lot each year that he comes back to the program.
"It goes over the main fundamentals of baseball. I like that part," he said.
Mamer felt his skills in hitting and pitching have improved as a result.
His advice for kids who want to try Pitch, Hit & Run was, "do it because it's free, it's fun, if you're good enough you can go this far, and this is a fun experience."
The Pitch, Hit & Run competition, the official skills competition of MLB, is made up of three parts -- pitching, hitting and running. In the Pitch portion, the kids aim to hit a target at home plate from a pitching mound. In the Hit portion, participants hit off a tee as hard as they can, for distance and accuracy. In the Run portion, each child runs from second base to home plate, trying to make the fastest time possible.
A notable accomplishment of the national finals was Elander's Run time of 6.57 seconds, which broke the previous record time of 6.75.
Elander, 14, said being able to play in Comerica Park was "amazing."
"Seeing all of those people in the stands and the big Tigers scoreboard and everything, it's pretty cool," Elander said. "Thanks to Pepsi for putting it on for us, so we have a chance to be here and make memories like this."
He also participated in Pitch, Hit & Run as a 10-year-old, and that year, he made it to the second round -- the team championship round -- at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
"[The competition] takes a lot of concentration, and you just have to be on that day to do good," Elander said.
The Pitch, Hit & Run program provides kids with exciting experiences and new friends from around the country.
"It feels really good, because I never got to go to an All-Star Game," said the 10-year-old Hampson. "It makes you a better ballplayer, and it's really fun."
Hampson has taken part in the program for three years, and each year has made it up to the team championship round. He was excited to make it all the way to the national championship competition this year.
He said his family received the call that he'd been invited to the national finals around 8 a.m., and he had been sleeping when his mom came in to tell him the news. But he definitely was awake after that.
"I was just jumping all around my house, I was really happy," Hampson said.
Gentile, 8, said he enjoyed being a part of the competition and he's improved in his hitting skills.
"This is my first year," he said. "It was fun."
Gentile said the best parts of his All-Star trip so far were "Fanfest and the [hotel] pool," and he was excited to see the players up close during the CENTURY 21 Home Run Derby batting practice. He said he is a Red Sox fan and he hoped to meet Manny Ramirez during the festivities.
For more information on Pitch, Hit & Run, go to the Kids section of MLB.com.