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|Shirley following father's footsteps|
It was a typical birthday party for a 10-year old boy. The first present opened was a powerful water gun as teammates and friends watched with envy. Next came the pack of baseball cards.
But when Pate Shirley of Vidalia opened his next present on June 2, he was in for a big surprise.
Inside the box was a letter from Aquafina Pitch Hit & Run informing Shirley that he won the Pitch Hit & Run Sectional competition and would be competing in the Team Championships at the Houston Astros' Minute Maid Park on June 15.
"I was surprised and excited," Shirley said.
Shirley placed first in the 9-10 competition held in Vidalia earlier and won the Sectional competition in Natchitoches last month. The Sectional competition for the Houston Astros included 9 -and 10-year olds from Mississippi (3), Louisiana (2) and Southern Texas (6).
Northern Texas feeds into the Texas Rangers market.
Finishing first did not automatically qualify Shirley for the Team Championships. His scores were compared to other contestants in the five-state region and his score came out on top.
Pate doesn't have to look too far for advice on the competition. His father, Whest, won the local and regional competition in 1980 and competed in the Houston Astrodome.
"He knows what the competition is about," Whest said. "My mom showed him a scrapbook with some pictures of when I went."
The Astros will be playing host to the New York Yankees.
Pate, whose favorite player is Chipper Jones, said he has been to one baseball game, an Atlanta Braves game two years ago.
The top four scorers from the Sectional are competing in the 30 Team Championships across the nation.
The top scorer in each of the 30 Team Championships advance to the National Finals which will be during the Major League Baseball All-Star Baseball game in Yankee Stadium in New York. The 30 finalists will compete prior to the Home Run Derby and then shag fly balls during the Home Run Derby.
Each contestant bats from a stationary tee and the three hits are judged on distance and accuracy. Batters hit the ball along a string and the hits are measured for length and the number of feet the ball is from the string is deducted from the distance.
Pate's longest hit was 280 feet.
"I haven't hit off a tee in a while, so I've been practicing," Pate said. "I try to concentrate on hitting the ball to a certain spot."
"When I did it we just threw the ball up in the air, or as we called it 'air-mailed it.'" Whest said.
Contestants are then timed from racing from second base to home plate, which is 160 feet.
Anything over 11 seconds does not earn any points.
Pate, who stands 5-foot-2 and weighs 125 pounds, ran the 160 feet in 10.7.
Pate is big, but is deceivingly fast," Whest said.
The contestants threw six pitches 45 feet to home plate, which is 17 inches wide and 20 feet high. Each strike earns 75 points.
Pate, who was recently selected to the Vidalia Dixie Youth Baseball Minor League All-Star team, threw four strikes in his six pitches.
"Pitching is really the key," Whest said. "Most of your kids are going to be big and hit the ball a long way and run pretty good.
Whest was 13 years old when he won the 13-14 division of pitch, hit and run. It was the last year for the competition locally for a number of years.
"That was my first airplane ride and first professional ball game," Whest said. "We had dinner with Nolan Ryan, Jose Cruz and Art Howe. "The Astros were playing the Cubs and it went 18 innings. Bruce Sutter was pitching. We had to leave before the game was over because we were taking a shuttle bus and we heard the crowd roar when they had the game-winning hit."
Whest finished second in the competition. Only the first place winners advanced.
"I figured Pate had a good chance to reach the Team Championships," Whest said. "I know he won't be nervous, but I will. I'll be pulling hard for him."
|Frank Morris Murder Series|