By Zach Rollins / PHR National Finalist
Zach Rollins of Stafford, Conn., was a 2009 Aquafina Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run National Finalist. Zach shared his Pitch, Hit & Run experiences with MLB.com.
Tuesday, July 14 -- Sightseeing and the 2009 All-Star Game: After eating breakfast on Tuesday we took a tour of the Arch. The ride was crowded but a lot of fun. We could see a lot from the windows on top. After that we went to Fan Fest and could walk around ourselves. My dad and I saw Cal Ripken and got Steven Strausburg's autograph. We then went back to the hotel and went swimming with my new friends Toby and Doug. After swimming it was back to Busch Stadium to watch the All- Star game. It took 45min to get in because security was high because President Obama was arriving shortly to throw out the first pitch. After we took our seats we noticed snipers with sniper-rifles on the top of the stadium. Then we watched the game where the American team won. After getting back to the hotel I stayed up until 1:30 a.m. hanging out with my new buddies. Toby, Doug and I decided we are going to go to Las Vegas when we are old enough!
Wednesday morning my dad and I got up and went to the airport. We got home in time for me to play in my own All-Star Game. My trip was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget.
Monday, July 13 -- Day of the competition and Home Run Derby: The next morning we had breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel and received an All-Star pin that no one has except the players. We also received a baseball that we could get autographed. Then we walked across the street to Fan Fest where we got to go in the front of all the lines. My favorite part was the video-pitching batting cage ... that was pretty cool. Then we got Hall of Famer Juan Marichal's autograph in a private room just for us competitors which was very special because he was a really good pitcher.
Then it was time to compete at Busch Stadium. After warming up we waited in the dugout until it was our turn to go. It was exciting to get announced but I was nervous at the same time. I wasn't as nervous once I got on the field. Although I didn't do as well as I wanted I was still excited to just be there. After the competition we waited in the dugout and the National League All-Stars were there too!! Brian McCann shook our hands which was pretty good because he's a good player. And some of the players stood by us. We walked by the ESPN announcers and watched batting practice from the bull pen which was also pretty cool. In the bull pen we got Josh Hamilton's autograph! Finally the Home Run Derby started. When Brandon Inge batted we ran out onto the field to shag fly balls. I was very excited as I ran out and then nervous because I didn't want to embarrass myself. We stayed out there for Ryan Howard and once he was done we went to the 3rd base side and sat behind the American League Players. Then we were announced on the field where they told everyone why we were there and the place we came in the competition. Then we went back to the bull pen and waited our turn to shag some more balls. I then cleanly fielded a ground ball by Albert Pujols. I was relieved when it didn't go between my legs. After a long day we went back to our hotel.
Sunday, July 12 -- Arrive in St. Louis: I was so excited to get to St Louis! I thought it was cool that Abby Lane was there to meet my dad and I at the airport and bring us to our shuttle. Once we arrived at our hotel Matt and Matt welcomed us and gave us a hat and a book detailing the next few days. After checking in my dad and I ate lunch and then waited for my family to arrive. That night we all went to the reception dinner they had for all PHR competitors. They had a slide show with pictures of all the competitors showing how we made it to St Louis. After dinner we received an autographed baseball , a St Louis Cardinal bag with a bat from Ryan Ludwig, and a duffle bag full of many things : Reebok sneakers, uniforms for 2 days, a Albert Pujols bobble head doll, an official team USA jersey, a future's game ball, fanny pack, pen etc. I was shocked and excited because I didn't know I would be getting all of that cool stuff!
I first became interested in Pitch, Hit & Run because of friends of my family, Neil Hoss and his son Luke. They went to an All-Star Game in Chicago and Luke asked his dad how those kids got to be on the field and when they got home Neil looked into it and found out they were the winners of Pitch, Hit & Run. The following year Mr. Hoss started the Pitch, Hit & Run competition in Stafford Springs, Conn. Since then I have competed every year. Last year I won the all around in Stafford and moved on to the Sectionals hosted at New Britain Stadium where I came in 2nd place.
This was my last year to compete and I knew I had to make it a good one. I came in 1st place for the all around and moved on to the Sectionals in Middletown, Conn. I woke up early to get there and slept in the car so I wouldn't be too tired to compete. I won the Sectional with a score of 1,110 points. I knew it was a good score, but didn't know if it was good enough to move onto bigger stages...the Team Championships! I knew it would be tough because only 4 kids in each age group from the tri-state area get to advance.
We went home and the waiting game began, it seemed like forever and we began to think I didn't make it ... and then the Fed Ex package was at our door. Thinking it was something else I went to my room when I heard my mom scream my name and I thought I was in trouble. When I got downstairs I saw her smiling and holding out a piece of paper. I took it and read it: it said that I would be moving on to compete at the Team Championship at Mets Stadium, CitiField!!! I was so excited that I couldn't even sleep!
A few days later we were driving to New York City. We arrived at the first base VIP entrance and waited. I practiced pitching with my younger brothers to start preparing until they let us in the park and onto the field. It is a beautiful field and I knew it was going to be an experience to treasure. Before we competed we warmed up to get ready and then we went into the dugout where they lined us up ... I was last. I had been a little nervous in the dugout, until it was my turn to hit. My dad and I have a rule: put the first one in play, if it's in play and straight then bomb the second one and if the second one is good then kill the last one. I followed the rules and my last hit was over 300 feet! I was pretty happy. Next was pitching, my goal was 4 out of 6 or better. I hit 4 and was satisfied. Next was running. I am very good at running and set my goal for 7 seconds. I did it in less, 6.84 seconds. I could see my brother, Austin, with his phone out timing me with his stop watch and as I walked back to the dugout he yelled to me my time. I could also hear my family yelling for me cheering me on as I was running.
Like many, I have a very supportive family. There that day was my dad, step-mom, both sisters (Lauren and Maggie), both brothers (Austin and Jake), our friend Jake, my mom and her boyfriend. Basically my whole town wished me good luck and couldn't wait to hear how I did. I knew I came in first for running, tied for first for pitching and confident I came in first for hitting, but I still sat anxiously in the dugout until it was my age groups turn to find out the winner. Then my name was announced as the 2009 Mets Team Championship PHR WINNER!!!! I was amazed and once again could hear my family screaming and yelling! It was a pretty good day. After getting my name announced at the beginning of the Mets game we rushed home so I could watch my brother's Little League Championship Game. They won and I knew it was a pretty good day for our family. Before they announced the winners and have them accept their trophies, they announced my name and had me go to the pitcher's mound to show-off my plaque and receive acknowledgement for this huge accomplishment!
A few weeks later I got a call from Abby Lane from Pitch, Hit & Run Headquarters ... I am a National Finalist! One of three in my age group in the entire country ... wow. My family was very proud of me and I couldn't say a word. In no time at all the entire town had heard of my accomplishment because my family had either called or texted them. I had also texted my friends who were all proud of me. My great-grandfather has been a St Louis Cardinal's fan since 1934 and told me he will be watching on TV. Our baseball family has even talked about coming to my dad's house (although no one will be there) to watch everything on our TV. I know that this will be an experience of a lifetime and can't wait for it all to happen. I can't wait to catch balls during the Home Run Derby, watch the All-Star Game, and compete one last time in Pitch, Hit & Run.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.