One of the more prominent alumni of the Aquafina Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run (PHR) program is Bobby Borchering. Borchering qualified for the 2003 PHR National Finals in Chicago as a 12 year old and again in 2005 in Detroit at the age of 14. On June 9, 2009, Borchering was drafted in the first round (No. 16 overall) of the MLB First-Year Player Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Borchering competed at PHR Local and Sectional competitions in the Fort Myers, Fla., area when he was growing up. MLB.com recently caught up with Borchering and his father, Barry Borchering, to talk about their experience with the PHR program.
MLB.com: How did you get started competing in PHR for the first time?
Bobby Borchering: When I was really young my dad saw a flyer for a competition at a local park and I just decided to start practicing and give it a shot. I did pretty well the first time, but when I was 12, I really got serious about working hard and trying to go all the way to the All-Star Game for the National Finals.
MLB.com: How much did you practice for PHR? Was there anything about that practice time & dedication that made you a better ballplayer?
Bobby Borchering: When I was 12 I really started focusing on my pitching. I made a strike-zone target and hung it in my backyard and started practicing every day. I also started hitting off the batting tee a lot and working on the fundamentals of my swing. Practicing for PHR each year became something that really helped me a lot in baseball in terms of learning how to establish a good work ethic.
MLB.com: For a young ballplayer, what do you think are the benefits of participating in PHR?
Bobby Borchering: I would say the main benefits are just going out and competing and having a good time with it. I think regardless of how you do in the competition it's a good way to assess the strengths and weaknesses in your game.
MLB.com: The hitting element of the competition takes place off a batting tee. How important is it for a young ballplayer to practice on a batting tee?
Bobby Borchering: Oh, I'd say it's very important to practice hitting off a tee because even big leaguers take a lot of hacks off the tee. I remember when I was 14 that some of my teammates poked fun at me for still practicing with a batting tee, but you can really tell a lot about the mechanics of your swing from hitting off a tee and it's really paid off for me.
MLB.com: What do you remember about the first time you stepped on to a Major League field to compete at a PHR Team Championship?
Bobby Borchering: It was really cool. I still remember walking in Tropicana Field for the first time and just looking around in amazement. It was so surreal to be down on the field and competing for the first time in a Major League park. I just remember it being a really cool experience.
MLB.com: What do you remember about getting the phone call with the good news that you had qualified for the PHR National Finals at the All-Star Game?
Bobby Borchering: I remember it being really close all the way down to the end and just hoping for that phone call to tell me that I'd made it. When the call came I was so excited and I remember being asked for my shoe size and all my other sizes and just being so incredibly pumped up about going to the All-Star Game. I couldn't have been happier.
MLB.com: Looking back at your PHR National Finals trips to Chicago and Detroit, what were your favorite memories and did these experiences prepare you for baseball on a bigger stage?
Bobby Borchering: My best memories were just getting to meet the top kids from all over the country and getting out seeing the town in both Chicago and Detroit. Being a part of the All-Star Game festivities and being on the field for the Home Run Derby was something I couldn't even have dreamed about. It helped me put things in perspective and made it more realistic for me to dream that maybe this is possible to pursue my dream of being a big league ballplayer.
MLB.com: Did anything about competing at two MLB All-Star Games and that whole experience prepare you for the big time? Anything you learned the first trip to the National Finals (finished 4th in '03) that helped you the second time (finished 2nd in '05)?
Bobby Borchering: Yeah, the first time I was just so excited and taking it all in and ended up doing OK, but not having a great score. The next time around when I was 14 I just decided that I wanted to win it all and really just focused on that goal. It helped me when I got older in that I'd already been in that kind of spotlight, so it was definitely a good way to get started competing on a big stage.
MLB.com: When you were a part of the MLB All-Star Game as a National Finalist in PHR, did it cross your mind that you could be back one day as a Major League player? Now is the Futures Game a goal?
Bobby Borchering: Definitely. It's something I always think about, but in order to set goals sometimes you've got to see it a little bit to believe it. So to get a look at baseball on a big stage at such a young age was really helpful. Playing in the Futures Game and trying to make it to the big leagues as soon as possible are definitely big goals of mine now.
MLB.com: What was it like after you got home from the National Finals with peers, classmates, teammates, reporters, etc.?
Bobby Borchering: It was really a lot of fun. Everyone wanted to know how I advanced to the All-Star Game and how they could do the competition next year. All the media attention was wild, but it helped me prepare for all the craziness that came with my senior year and the draft and all the interviews.
MLB.com: And what's it been like the last few years when you watch the Home Run Derby on television, to know that you were out there not too long ago as a PHR National Finalist shagging fly balls?
Bobby Borchering: It's pretty cool. I keep hoping MLB will add a 16-18 year old division so I can get back out there! No, I'm always really happy for all those kids and I think it's great that this program is offered. The Home Run Derby always brings back great memories of when I was out there as a PHR National Finalist.
MLB.com: What was the anticipation like leading up to the Draft?
Bobby Borchering: It was a whirlwind of emotions, but I was just trying to get in the best possible shape and stay focused on getting myself prepared. When 50 scouts showed up to one of my first senior year high school games to watch me take groundballs, my teammates were awestruck, but I really just focused on my senior season. The anticipation of the draft was a tough situation, but I was happy when it was over and just really excited to be a part of the Arizona organization.
MLB.com: Were you at Draft Central? What was it like hearing your name called/getting the news?
Bobby Borchering: No, I decided to stay home with my mom, dad and sister to watch it on TV. I didn't know at the time exactly where I would be picked, but I was really happy the way it worked out. To be a first-rounder, it was nice to take a step back and realize it was something I worked really hard for.
MLB.com: Have you kept in touch with any other PHR National Finalists or crossed paths with them?
Bobby Borchering: Actually, yes. I ran into Josh Elander from Texas when we were both playing at the Under Armour All-American Game. I think he's playing at TCU now.
MLB.com: What are your goals for the next couple years?
Bobby Borchering: The next couple years I'll have the same goals in mind to get to the big leagues, keep working hard and to remember that it's just baseball, so enjoy it.
MLB.com: How did you first get Bobby involved with PHR?
Barry Borchering: We saw something in the newspaper that the local park and recreation department was hosting a local competition. Bobby didn't make it past the local level the first year, but it motivated him to practice and work hard to get ready for the following year's competition.
MLB.com: How do you think your son went from not advancing past the Local level of PHR in his first year to eventually rising above over a half a million competitors to reach the National Finals?
Barry Borchering: I think he learned to never give up and keep practicing. The numbers are staggering when you think about it in terms of how many kids across the country compete in PHR, but he just decided to take it one step at a time and do the best he could.
MLB.com: What would you say to other parents who consider entering their kids in a PHR competition?
Barry Borchering: The tests are real baseball appropriate and kids like Bobby who love baseball and competition will practice and practice just to win that little ribbon or plaque, but I always liked that PHR taught him real fundamentals that you need through all levels of baseball. The competition gives you an idea of where you stand in terms of strengths and weaknesses with your accuracy, speed and such. Also the fact that the program is not cost-prohibitive, it's free, so it's really a great opportunity for kids everywhere.
MLB.com: What do you like best about PHR?
Barry Borchering: I liked that the hitting competition teaches kids to square it up and hit the ball up the middle, the fact that it encourages them to stay inside the ball and put a real good swing on it, it's really helpful to developing the correct swing pattern. Throwing with accuracy and running the bases are obviously also important and needed to play baseball at the highest level.
MLB.com: How much practice and hard work did Bobby put in to prepare for the competition?
Barry Borchering: During the week he would practice on his own. I would get home from work and his mom would tell me how he'd been in the backyard with the pitching target. On the weekends I'd time him running the bases and we'd try to make it fun ... we'd put cones down the center of the field and work on his hitting. Bobby always seemed to enjoy the work and the practice as much as the competition and the games.
MLB.com: What was it like for your son to be on a Major League field for the first time at the PHR Team Championship?
Barry Borchering: It was a lot of fun (at Tropicana Field). He had been a batboy a couple times, so he wasn't as awestruck as some of the other kids who were on a big field for the first time, he was focused, but at the same time he was really excited.
MLB.com: And during the National Finals at the MLB All-Star Game, especially when he made it for a second time, did it occur to you that maybe the writing was on the wall that he really could be a pro ballplayer?
Barry Borchering: No, it was still early on and his next step was just to make the high school team. After that the next step was to earn a college scholarship to play baseball, which he did, but the PHR National Finals experience gave him a lot of confidence. It showed him where he compared with the other top competitors his age and that if he kept working hard; there were some things he could achieve.
MLB.com: What were the highlights of the PHR National Finals experience for you and your son?
Barry Borchering: The experience was way beyond our expectations as far as the organization of the events and activities. It was really fun for a parent, let alone for a kid, to experience everything surrounding the All-Star Game. Even just for the kids to take in the experience that comes with seeing a new city, with most of the kids never being that far away from their hometown, it was just amazing. We were treated very well and we'll never forget it.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.