ST LOUIS -- Nick Cass stood on the top step of the dugout at Busch Stadium on Saturday morning and bent over to talk to his younger brother.
Long before the big leaguers took the field in front of thousands of fans, a small group of children participated in the Cardinals' team championship round of Major League Baseball's Pitch, Hit & Run competition. The competition included hitting off a tee, running from second to home and throwing pitches at a strike zone.
Saturday's event brought wide eyes from those participating.
"To actually stand there [at home plate], it's overwhelming just to see you have so much field to hit the ball to," said Karly Bruntjen, first-place winner in the girls' 13-14 age division. "It's crazy."
More than 4,000 local competitions take place each year, with participants needing to advance through a local competition and sectionals to reach the team competition held in each Major League city between May 31 and June 29.
The top three winners from each age group among all 30 teams will have the opportunity to compete in the national competition during All-Star Week on July 14 at Target Field in Minneapolis. The top three winners will be announced on June 29 on MLB Network.
"It was my first year doing it, and I didn't even expect to get here," Bruntjen said. "Hopefully I move on."
The program was started in 1997 as a way to get more people back into the game of baseball. Since then, two current Major Leaguers have participated -- Twins outfielder Chris Parmelee and Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer.
No matter what the result was for Saturday's participants at Busch Stadium, the experience is one to remember. They posed for photos on the field and laughed and joked in the dugout.
"To be able to stand at home plate where the greats stand, that's a pretty unique feeling," Pitch, Hit & Run representative Matt Engleka said. "Some of the younger ones are a little too young to realize that, but as they get older they'll remember this day for the rest of their lives, and their parents definitely will."
One key objective of the program is to have fun. That explained why Cass, who won the boys' 13-14 age division, bent over to give his brother, who finished second in the 7-8 age division, words of advice.
"I was like, 'No matter if you came and you lost, as long as you gave all your effort, that's all that matters,'" Cass said. "I think it's pretty cool having my brother here, I think it's a pretty cool experience."
Alex Halsted is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less