MILWAUKEE -- Batters stood in the grass in left field and took turns swinging off the batting tee. As each ball landed, there was applause from the crowd followed by a quick tug of the tape measure to record the hit's distance.
It wasn't another round of batting practice for these youngsters, but rather the second part of a three-part competition known as the Pitch, Hit & Run event. The top 24 contestants in the state competed at Miller Park on Sunday morning to put their batting, throwing and baserunning skills to the test in trying to qualify for the national finals.
The first-place finisher in each age group will have his or her scores compared to those of the other first-place finishers from the other 29 MLB teams, and from there, the three top scorers will compete during the All-Star weekend in Phoenix.
The male and female participants were divided into age groups that ranged from seven to 14 years old and took turns running from second base to home, batting off the tee and pitching into a target on a backstop. The chance to compete at Miller Park as family members and friends lined the third-base line caused many youngsters to smile throughout the morning.
Pausing to snap pictures in front of the Brewers logo in the visiting team's dugout and then starting out at the Jumbotron inspired just as much excitement as the skills competition.
"We promise we'll try to get the spellings of your names right before the game, when they're up on the board," said PHR coordinator Bennett Mayfield, who kept track of the score on his clipboard.
The annual competition has become a family affair for many of the participants, including 13-year-old Courtney Stephens, who was the top finisher in her age group. Stephens' brother, Tyler, won the state competition last year and competed in the national championship in Anaheim. Seeing her brother win a free trip to the All-Star Game and appear on TV made Courtney and her younger sister, Andrea, want to try and advance this season, she said.
"You start, and you're like 'Ah, really?' It's just something fun for the kids to do, and you never put two and two together," said Courtney's mother, Renee. "There are little bloops along the way. ... For Court, she's 13; she has another year, so it's awesome."
Andrea also participated on Sunday morning and finished third in the 11- to 12-year-old group.
To compete at Miller Park, each contestant had to advance through local competitions that attracted hundreds of participants. They then had to take first place at the sectional competition in order to advance to the state competition. As the participants stood with their plaques and watched Jim Thome warm up behind them in left field, they were making memories that aren't about to be lost on them any time soon.
Mayfield had one final message to the top finishers, as they exited the park, with many changing into Brewers hats and jerseys.
"You are one of 30 people in the country that is holding that plaque right now, making you eligible to advance to the national finals, where you could compete against the best," Mayfield said. "Congratulations."
The first-place winners took part in a pregame ceremony and will find out on Monday night whether their score is good enough to land them a coveted spot in the national finals. The national finalists will be announced on MLB Tonight on the MLB Network.
"I don't think I'm going to go, but there might be a chance," Courtney said. "We'll see. ... If not, I can compete again next year."
Wilson, Morgan combine to make highlight reel
MILWAUKEE -- Shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt still owns the Brewers' defensive play of the year, his sensational behind-the-back flip to start a double play on May 9. It's going to be hard for anyone to top that.But infielder Josh Wilson made the Brewers' game-ending play of the year on Saturday night, a catch in foul ground for which Wilson contended with the tarp, the fans in the seats and, yes, a teammate tumbling over his back. "We've been working on that for the last little bit," joked the gymnast, outfielder Nyjer Morgan. "You can see it all came together real nice there." Wilson and Morgan converged on Ben Revere's foul pop, and Wilson caught it by reaching over the rolled-up tarp. Morgan had jumped on top of the tarp, and his momentum carried him into a summersault, right over Wilson's back.
- 131 wins
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Wilson barely noticed."I saw him do his Spider Man thing on the tarp, but I honestly didn't even feel him roll over me," Wilson said. Morgan drew extra points for his dismount, high-fiving a Twins fan who happened to find himself in the middle of the highlight. Associated Press photographer Morry Gash caught the moment. "Just to spice it up a little bit," Morgan said. "I gave him some love. It would have been nicer if it was a Brew Crew member. I just happened to slap-a-dap with somebody."
Gomez still has big aspirations
MILWAUKEE -- Carlos Gomez's time in the Brewers' outfield has waned, but his confidence has most certainly not.He still views himself as a future three-hole hitter in the Major Leagues. "Believe it," Gomez said. "I'm 220 pounds and they know I can hit home runs, but that's the last ability you get in your life. "I'm 25 years old now. I'm still learning how to hit. When I get my approach right, I think I'm going to be in the third hole." Gomez's two-run home run on Saturday sparked a five-run inning and an 11-1 Brewers win over the Twins in just his sixth start in the team's first 23 June games. He had three hits in his previous 32 at-bats before collecting three hits on Saturday. For the season, Gomez entered Sunday batting .221 with a .272 on-base percentage. Nyjer Morgan has taken over starts against right-handed pitchers, with Gomez starting mostly against lefties. "I still like the combination of playing [Morgan and Gomez] out there," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "For Gomey, if this gets his confidence going again, that's a real nice combination." Gomez's attitude has been "awesome," despite his diminished role, Roenicke said, though the outfielder did make a point to chat with his manager near the batting cage earlier on the homestand. "He just kind of came over, and said, 'Hey, don't forget about me,'" Roenicke said. "His attitude has been great."
Brewers want a change from Gallardo
MILWAUKEE -- Add Ron Roenicke to the list of Brewers managers who have asked right-hander Yovani Gallardo to throw more changeups.Other skippers have made the same request, most notably Roenicke's predecessor, Ken Macha, who viewed the change as key to Gallardo inducing earlier outs and avoiding starts cut short because of high pitch counts. Gallardo is having another excellent season -- he's 9-4 with a 3.92 ERA -- but has essentially abandoned the changeup. He's throwing it for just 1.6 percent of his pitches this season, according to data at FanGraphs.com. Last year, he threw it 3.8 percent of the time, and in 2009, 7.1 percent of the time. Pitch f/x data at BrooksBaseball.com allows for some further digging and reveals that the pitch has been virtually nonexistent in Gallardo's arsenal. According to the data, he has not thrown a single changeup in his past two starts, threw only three in five June starts -- none of them strikes -- and has not thrown more than two in any of his past 11 starts. No hitter has swung at a Gallardo changeup since April 27. That may be the date that Roenicke and Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz called a series of changeups from the dugout. Gallardo threw four of them that day against the Reds, just one for a strike. "We called some, and every one was in the dirt," Roenicke said. "From what I understand -- and he told me, too -- he had a really good [changeup] when he came to the big leagues, and then he got away from it, for whatever reason. "He has three great pitches with the curveball, the slider/cutter and fastball. If he can add that changeup in there, that's a lot of weapons because they're all 'plus' pitches. ... With that stuff, you don't want him to work so hard. He should have some easy innings." Gallardo throws quality changeups in his pregame warmups, Roenicke said, but so far has been unwilling to bring the pitch into games. "Most of the time you're going to throw it to left-handers, and he's looking at the lefties he has in the lineup, and if it's not a perfect spot for it, he doesn't throw it," Roenicke said. "Somewhere, we need to make him throw it, and hopefully, he gets confident in it and hopefully, he takes off."
DiFelice heads back to Nashville
MILWAUKEE -- Manager Ron Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin had another discussion on Sunday morning about possible roster moves ahead of a week-long Interleague trip to New York and Minnesota.
The Brewers completed the first of those moves on Sunday afternoon, as the club announced that pitcher Mark DiFelice was optioned to Triple-A Nashville. DiFelice was called up to Milwaukee on June 18, and the club could soon recall left-hander Zach Braddock from Nashville. Roenicke spoke on Saturday about possibly having Braddock back in the bullpen on Tuesday when the Brewers play the Yankees.
Milwaukee may also promote an extra hitter to help fill the designated-hitter role. Roenicke said that, because of the off-day on Monday, he doesn't feel any of his players would need the extra day to serve as DH, so the club may call one up.
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. Audrey Snyder is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.