MCCOOL JUNCTION – Following in the footsteps of her dad, Scott, McKenna Yates decided to get involved in Major League Baseball’s Pitch, Hit & Run competition this spring.
After qualifying for the program in Fairmont, Yates advanced to Grand Island where she punched her ticket to Coors Field in Denver, home of the Colorado Rockies, for regional competition last week.
While Yates was there, she won her age group – which is 13-14 girls – and is now waiting to see if her score was good enough to make the top three in the nation.
Yates will find out at 2 p.m. this Monday when the MLB Network will announce the names of the winners who will be in Cleveland on All-Star Weekend to compete in nationals of the competition at Progressive Field on Tuesday, July 9.
“My dad did it as a little kid and he wanted my brother and me to start it,” McKenna said.
Scott explained how the competition works, and how McKenna qualified.
“There are four rounds and four levels, and the one in Fairmont was the local competition, then I think the one in Grand Island is called sectional,” Scott said.
“To get to Coors Field I think it was South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah was the five states. She had to be in the top three of those five states in her division.”
MLB’s Pitch, Hit and Run program involves throwing six softballs at a target 35 feet away, which is 17x30 inches, representing the MLB strike zone. For each target hit, the player receives 75 points.
McKenna scored a perfect 6 of 6 and received the maximum 450 points.
“When we practiced back on the field at McCool Junction, I would take tape and put it on the chain link fence, and she would throw the ball at the target,” Scott said.
“She didn’t know it but every day I kept making it a little smaller. But I guess it paid off at Coors Field and I think her hitting 6 of 6 really separated her from the rest of the girls.”
In the hitting competition, the players hit off a tee and both distance and accuracy of a hit ball in the air are scored. A line is extended 250 feet out from home plate. First, the distance is marked, and then the distance off the line is measured and subtracted.
McKenna’s score was 114 feet, which was multiplied by two for a score of 228. Each player gets three attempts, and the best one is scored. Each player could adjust the tee to the height he or she liked.
“I had to get used to trying to get the ball in the air,” McKenna said. “It didn’t count if it rolled on the ground.”
In the running competition, each contestant runs 120 feet. Where they start is based on the size of the field. They are timed and receive a score based on that time. McKenna was clocked at 8.71 seconds, which gave her 429 points for a total of 1,107 to win her age division.
McKenna, who will be an eighth grader at McCool Junction this fall, loves sports and that is evident at how active she is in all the sports offered at the junior high level.
McKenna broke Aftan Smith’s McCool Junction junior high record in the high jump by clearing 4 feet, 10 inches. She also ran a 1-minute, 6.5-second 400-meter dash, was clocked at 29 seconds and change in the 200 and was right at 14 seconds in the 100.
Smith won the Class D state high jump with a state record of 5-7 in 2004 and again in 2005 with a jump of 5-4.
McKenna is currently a member of the Nebraska Heartland Basketball team, which travels to Hayes Center, Kansas for a tournament this weekend. She has hit 18 3-pointers in six games this year.
McKenna is a setter in volleyball, and even played quarterback in the sixth grade on the Pee Wee team, which plays tackle football.
A total of 24 kids were in competition at Coors Field with three from each of the eight age groups.
Each of the 30 Major League stadiums had a winner in each age group. Three girls from each age group will be selected to move on to Cleveland for the national championship competition.
“I never dreamed it would go this far, but I am excited,” McKenna said. “I think my chances are kind of high, but I just don’t know. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and if I don’t make it there’s always next year.”
McKenna’s brother, Colby, also competed in the 9-10 age group and finished second in Grand Island.
The family had to hurry back from Coors Field last Saturday night after the game against the San Diego Padres, driving all night just to get McKenna back to play softball the next day at her league softball tournament.