Olivia King didn’t know what she was getting herself into when her dad signed her up for a local Pitch, Hit & Run competition last year. Now she’s an old pro at it.
But she still couldn’t curtail her excitement when she got a call from her mom a couple of weeks ago.
Turns out Olivia was on her way to the All-Star Game.
“I was actually at the pool with my aunt and my mom called me and she started yelling,” Olivia said. “And I was really, Oh my gosh I was so excited.”
That’s how Olivia found out she was one of 24 finalists and three from her age group selected for the Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run national championships, which will take place during the MLB All-Star Game festivities next week at Target Field in Minneapolis. She will go against two other competitors selected for the 9-10 girls division.
Olivia, a 10-year-old who will be a fifth grader next fall at Richardson Elementary School, has always been athletically inclined according to her father, David. She’s in a volleyball league, plays soccer and basketball and always loved softball, so he thought she’d do well in a competition that involved throwing, hitting and running.
Last year, he signed up his youngest of four children for a local Pitch, Hit & Run competition in Independence. And the journey began.
“I got her out of school that day and she was kind of like, What are we doing?” said King, who moved his family to Lee’s Summit from Parkville last year. “I knew she had very top quality athleticism, I knew that was there. I knew the odds though were going to be tough to make it to the top three in the nation. That’s a lot of girls.”
Pitch, Hit & Run competitions began at the local level, where approximately 625,000 boys and girls take part in over 4,000 competitions across North America. The top three from each age group go on to sectionals, and the top finishers there go on to competitions at each of the 30 major-league ballparks.
Olivia made it all the way to Kauffman Stadium last year, where she competed against girls from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Nebraska. Even though she won her division, she didn’t do well enough to make it to nationals.
But this year, after sweeping the local competition at Greenwood, the sectional at Oak Grove two weeks later and repeating at the K, she got to hear her name announced as one of the finalists June 29 on the MLB Network.
“I didn’t know I’d ever get to the All-Star Game,” Olivia said. “I just thought it was competition and you’d get awarded with plaques and medals. I never knew that we get a big surprise like that.”
In Pitch, Hit & Run, boys and girls compete in four different age divisions from 7-8 to 13-14. The girls get six chances to throw a softball at a target the size of a major-league strike zone from 35 feet out and receive points for each time they hit the target. They hit a softball off a tee and receive points for distance and how close to the middle of the field their ball lands. Then they are timed at how fast they can run from second base to home plate.
The pitching, Olivia and her dad agree, is the hardest and most crucial part of the competition.
“We’ve worked on throwing a lot because those are huge,” King said. “I think it’s weighted a little bit toward the throwing. If you get five and the other girl gets six, that’s a 75-point difference and that’s hard to make up.”
Olivia and her family leave for Minneapolis July 13 and she will compete the following day. She will also get to watch the American and National league all-stars work out and shag fly balls at the Home Run Derby that night.
“We were thinking about wrapping a fluorescent pink band on her arm so we can see her in the outfield,” King said. “Then if she makes an outstanding play in the outfield she could make ESPN’s Top Ten.”
Better yet, they hope to see her name on national TV again after winning a national title.
“It’s been an exciting run,” King said. “We’re going to keep going and try to do our best.”