A few hours before the series finale between the Cardinals and Giants on Sunday afternoon, a younger group of stars took the field at Busch Stadium.
Twenty-four boys and girls, ages seven to 14, participated in the Cardinals' team championship round of Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit and Run competition.
The competition consists of more than 4,000 local competitions across the country and is broken down geographically by team market. Sunday's 24 participants advanced through their local competition and then a sectional competition where they finished among the top three in the Cardinals' region that comprises parts of Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee. While many of the local participants had attended games at Busch Stadium before, for most, this was their first time stepping out onto the field.
"I would have never thought in my life that I'd be going out there on the Cardinals' field," said Hunter Pitts of Leasburg, Mo., the first-place winner in the 11-12 year-old girls division.
The participants competed in three areas: pitching, hitting and running. They threw at a strike-zone target; hit off a tee from home plate, testing distance and accuracy; and ran from second base to home plate, timed for speed.
The St. Louis region first-place winners were: Abigail Ulsas (Fenton, Mo.) and Jacob Brown (Chesterfield, Mo.) for the 7-8 year-old division; Samantha Hood (Decatur, Ill.) and Woodrow Foster (Fulton, Mo.) for 9-10 year-olds; Hunter Pitts (Leasburg, Mo.) and Elijah Dannenbrink (Worden, Ill.) for 11-12 year-olds; and Elena Hipp (Chesterfield, Mo.) and DJ Schmidt (St. Paul, Mo.) for 13-14 year-olds.
"It's just a fun opportunity for kids to just compete against their fellow peers," said Blaize Klossner of Rolla, Mo., who finished second in the 11-12 year-old boys division.
The Pitch, Hit and Run competition began in 1997, and event organizer Matt Engelka said participation has about doubled since, rising from about 300,000 to roughly 600,000 this summer.
All 30 Major League clubs are hosting championships at their ballparks throughout June. The top three national finalists in each age group will be announced June 30 during "MLB Tonight" on MLB Network. They will advance to the finals at the 2013 MLB All-Star Game in New York, where they will compete on the field prior to shagging fly balls during the Home Run Derby.
"You can't beat it," said Engelka. "Some of them have never been to a ballpark, let alone a Major League stadium. Just their eyes get huge when they come out onto this field. It's an opportunity to make dreams come true for these kids."
Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.