© 2006 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

07/11/06 12:10 AM ET

Kids are a big hit at the All-Star Game

They pitch and run, too, as PH&R national champs crowned

PITTSBURGH -- The 16 finalists of the Pepsi Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run (PH&R) competition took their game to PNC Park on Monday afternoon to battle it out in the PH&R National Finals.

The competition took place amid all the excitement of All-Star Week, just prior to MLB's Home Run Derby. One champion was named in each of the four age divisions.

Jordan Jenkins of Placentia, Calif., took the 7/8-year-old title; Robby Gambale of Billerica, Mass., won in the 9/10-year-old division; Jourdan Weiks of Olympia, Wash., took the 11/12-year-old crown; and Joshua Lovick of Kinston, N.C., was the champion of the 13/14-year-old age group.

The kids had a chance to compete on the field at PNC Park, where the Pirates play, just the like big leaguers. PH&R is the official youth skills competition of Major League Baseball.

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.

This is Gambale's first year participating in the PH&R competition, and he was quite pleased with the results. Pitching, he hit the target in three out of six tries; hitting, he hit the ball 174 feet; and running, he ran the bases in 8.41 seconds.

"I liked hitting because it's really fun, and I like the sound of the bat," Gambale said. "I thought I hit [the ball] pretty far."

The 10-year-old said his dream is to be a professional baseball player.

"When I was little, like 5, I always wanted to go to the All-Star Game," Gambale said. "This is just awesome -- I got to see all the players, got autographs, went to the FanFest."

Weiks also has aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player someday. He is a repeat PH&R champion, as he won the title in 2004 and got fourth place in the finals in 2002, as well.

"There's a lot to like -- the whole competition is just really fun," Weiks said. "I'm very happy about making it here. ... It's an honor to be on the field already, and I'm only 12."

He said his favorite part is the pitching, because it's worth a lot of points and sets the pace for the competition.

"If you get a good score in that, then it just pumps you up for the other two," Weiks said. "You just want to do good in that, and if you do, it's a big relief."

He said he was happy with his performance in the contest. In the pitching, he hit the target in three out of six tries; in the hitting, he hit the ball 258 feet; and in the running, he ran the bases in 7.40 seconds.

"This is probably the farthest I've ever hit," Weiks said. "I had a great time. It was a great experience."

The PH&R program successfully reached more than 550,000 boys and girls ages 7 to 14 this year, through more than 3,500 local competitions. PH&R provides youth across North America with an integrated competition that recognizes individual excellence in core baseball skills.

This grassroots program begins at the local level and participants must advance through sectional and team competitions to reach the finals. The top four competitors nationwide from each division in the team championships advance to the finals during All-Star Week.

While just four of the PH&R competitors were named champions at the national finals, an additional 12 players will receive either second-, third- or fourth-place trophies. Each of the 16 participants was a winner of PH&R team championships in his region of the country, taking place at Major League ballparks in June.

The runners-up in the 7/8-year-old division were Dakota Warnell of Albion, Iowa (second place); Kenny Moreno-Costa of Hialeah, Fla. (third place); and Drew Blakely of Galesburg, Mich (fourth place). The runners-up in the 9/10-year-old division were James Morin of Show Low, Ariz. (second place); Chris Hartz of Sewell, N.J. (third place); and Trevor Thompson of Stratton, Colo. (fourth place).

The runners-up in the 11/12-year-old division were Jorge Zepeda of Pico Rivera, Calif. (second place); Kyle Carter of Midland, Ga. (third place); and Stephen Reilly of Athens, N.Y. (fourth place). The runners-up in the 13/14-year-old division were Jesse Breiwick of Greenfield, Mass. (second place); Trey Meade of Clintwood, Va. (third place); and Joshua Mowris of Meadville, Penn. (fourth place).

To learn more about PH&R or to sign up to host local competitions in 2007, visit the PH&R homepage at www.mlb.com/phr.

Christie Cowles is the Kids & Community Affairs Editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.