Local youths ride baseball skills to Busch Stadium competition

Friday, June 16, 2006
Alex Statler, 12, of Jackson is one of the young athletes chosen to compete in the upcoming Hit, Pitch and Run competition at Busch Stadium. (Aaron Eisenhauer)

For Alex Statler and Adam Pope, their first trips to the new Busch Stadium will involve more than just watching the St. Louis Cardinals play the Colorado Rockies.

Statler and Pope will compete in the new Busch Stadium on Saturday morning in the Pepsi Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run team championship.

Each major league team crowns champions in four age groups, ranging from ages 7 and 8 to 13 and 14. In order to get to the St. Louis Cardinals team championship, Statler and Pope had to win one of the three disciplines or the overall title at the second annual local event in May, then win the sectional June 3 in Fenton, Mo., and have a sectional score among the top five of all sectionals feeding into St. Louis.

Adam Pope of Cape Girardeau will compete in the Pitch, Hit and Run competition at Busch Stadium in St. Louis on Saturday. (Toby Carrig)

Statler, 12, from Jackson, competed in the 11 and 12 division. Pope, a Cape Girardeau resident who turned 9 in March, competed with mostly older children in the 9 and 10 division.

Martin Pope, Adam's father, said his family received notification last Friday.

"That's not a lot of notice, but we were thrilled nonetheless," Martin Pope said.

For Statler, who is entering the seventh grade in Jackson, the decision to attend Saturday's event was not automatic.

"My team has to be in Mississippi," said Statler, a member of the Jackson Chiefs under-12 traveling team. "In my mind, I wasn't going to go to Busch; I was going to go with the team. My dad asked the coach if it was OK, and I asked my teammates if they wanted me to go."

Statler was given the OK, although he said he will try to join the team Sunday if they still are involved in the tournament.

Statler took the harder route to qualifying, winning only the running and pitching aspects of the local event. The hitting portion threw him for a loop. Batters are judged for distance and accuracy while trying three times to hit the ball -- off a tee -- along a line from home plate into the outfield.

"I last hit off a tee probably five years ago," Statler said. "I just blew it and didn't really hit anything.

"At the sectional, I practiced before I signed in. At first, I wasn't doing too well but then I got better. During the competition, I crushed them all and they all were on the center of the line. But I haven't practiced with a tee since then."

Statler said his best event is running -- he covered the distance from second base to home in 7.01 seconds in the local event.

Pope's primary event is pitching. He put four of six pitches into a strike zone target at the local event, then hit five od six at the sectional.

"He gets real focused when he gets ready to pitch," his father said.

That focus allowed Adam Pope to be successful despite being one of the youngest competitors in his age group.

"Entering was just kind of a last-minute thing," Martin Pope said. "It was an open Saturday. We really didn't expect to win here, much less in St. Louis. I should say I didn't expect it. I think he's pretty competitive.

"He hasn't said much about this but I think he's very excited, and we're thrilled."

Saturday's event will mix competition with reward. Following the morning contest, the participants will return to Busch Stadium that evening to be honored on the field before the 6:15 p.m. Rockies-Cardinals game. They also receive tickets for two people to attend the game with them.

The scores for the team champions from each major league team are compared and the top four nationally in each age group qualify to compete in the National Finals during All-Star Week in Pittsburgh. Major League Baseball expected more than 550,000 children to compete nationwide this year.

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