CLEVELAND -- Some pitchers, even big leaguers, have trouble throwing from the stretch. Jimmy Hickey is not one of them.
On a pleasant Saturday morning at Progressive Field, Hickey threw as if there were runners on base, taking time to become set before unleashing strike after strike after strike.
Aided by his arm accuracy, Hickey was the top boy finisher in his age group during the Cleveland team championship level of Pitch, Hit & Run, a North American skills competition presented by Scotts that rewards fine, young ballplayers with game tickets and the opportunity to compete on a Major League field -- and, for some of the top point-getters, a trip to the July 16 All-Star Game in New York City.
"It feels awesome," said Hickey, whose pitching impressed adults in the stands as well as kids on the field. "I practice at home a lot."
Hickey was one of of eight children to finish first in the team championship level at Progressive Field, one of 30 such events across the continent that test the skills of 24 talented boys and girls. All the participants at Progressive came from the northwest Ohio area and had to make it through a couple of levels of competition for the chance to flash their abilities in a big league park.
Each player was given six pitches, three swings and one mad dash from near second base to home plate to show off those fundamental baseball skills.
The eight winners from Saturday will be recognized for their accomplishments before that evening's Tribe game against the Nationals. All the participants received two tickets to the game.
"They were good. They were very good," said Bennett Mayfield, a Pitch, Hit & Run organizer. "There were some scores that stood out over others, but at the same time, each kid did very well to get here today. Some of them may not have had their best day, but at the end of the day, like I said, it's a special opportunity they had on the field -- no one else is around, it's their chance to soak it up and play on the same diamond that the Indians will be playing on later today."
For the boys and girls, there are four age divisions: 7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14.
Hickey, a North Royalton, Ohio, resident, took first place in the 9- and 10-year-old boys division. The other young men to come out on top include Justin Bremner (7- and 8-year-old division), Rigo Ramos (11- and 12-year-old division) and Matt Sivy (13- and 14-year-old division).
The morning's top girls were Ella Voigt (7- and 8-year-old division), Elle Mooney (9- and 10-year-old division), Amanda Strapp (11- and 12-year-old division) and Serena Sammarone (13- and 14-year-old division).
"Wow. Finally, I made it and won," said Strapp, a tall girl from Findlay, Ohio. "I liked the running, the running and the hitting."
All eight are eligible for a trip to the 84th edition of the All-Star Game, which will be played next month at Citi Field. Once each of the 30 Major League stadiums host its edition of the team championship level, the top three boys and girls from each age group will be selected to compete against each other in New York, while also catching fly balls during the Home Run Derby and participating in other All-Star Game events.
The national Pitch, Hit & Run finalists will be announced live on MLB Network at the end of the month.
Like Hickey, Ramos enjoyed the pitching portion of the event. A lanky left-hander from Stryker, Ohio, Ramos had made it to the team championship level for the second straight year, though he didn't finish first last summer. Things were different this time around.
"I knew what to expect," Ramos said. "That would be sweet, going to New York, because I've never been to New York before. That would be a huge step."
Ramos and the others had already taken major leaps simply by making it as far as Progressive Field. Dressed in matching green shirts but unique pants and socks, the boys and girls who made the Indians' diamond their own on Saturday looked like members of an All-Star team -- which is exactly what they were.
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. ___ This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.