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June 8, 2009

 

Hughes takes title at Yankee Stadium

BY TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

NEW YORK — It’s a sure bet that the new Yankee Stadium will always hold special memories for Brian Hughes, and not just of the first-visit variety.
The 14-year-old Cortland resident won the 13-14 age group at the Team Championship level of Major League Baseball’s Pitch, Hit & Run competition in the new ballpark Saturday morning. Another Cortland player, 12-year-old Justin Prentice, was third in the 11-12 age group.
“It was very, very close, 30 points out of thousands between first and fourth (last),” Hughes said of his victory. “I only hit three of six pitches — I was kind of nervous — and one kid hit five of six. I thought he would win, but he finished fourth. It was up for grabs for anybody.”
The pitching portion of the event consists of six throws by each competitor from 45 feet to a strike zone target. They then hit five balls off a tee at home plate for distance and accuracy along a measuring tape that goes through second base toward straight-away center, and run a timed sprint for a total of 160 feet from second base to home.
“I crushed a couple of hits pretty close to the line,” Hughes said. “I was happy with that, and I think that’s what won it for me. Running, it’s hard to tell. You just run as fast as you can and make sure you don’t miss a base. Being on the (Yankee Stadium) field made me want to do really well. This was once in a lifetime. I doubt I’ll be there again any time soon, and I wanted to make the best of it. The pressure was on to do my best.”
Prentice, a student at Randall School in Cortland, was among four competitors in his 11-12 age group. Prentice struggled during the pitching portion of the competition, but rallied from that for his third place spot.
Hughes had already competed in Pitch, Hit and Run once, finishing third in 2005 in the 9-10 age group in competition on outlying fields near old Yankee Stadium. He earned his second trip by winning the 13-14 title in April’s local competition at Beaudry Park and the sectionals last month at Alliance Bank Stadium in Syracuse.
“After we finished the last event — there were four kids in each of the four age groups (7-8, 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14) — we went out to Monument Park,” Hughes said. “They calculated the scores, and then we went into the visitors’ dugout. They started from the youngest group and went up, and the second-place finisher and I were the last two in the dugout. When they announced him for second place, I couldn’t believe it. We just looked at each other, then congratulated each other. I was so happy.”
He wasn’t the only one. His parents, Michelle and Yale, were seated behind the dugout, along with his aunt Joanne Thomas and friends from New Jersey the family was staying with. The announcer was standing in front of the dugout, and could be heard by all in attendance.
“When they announced the name of the second-place finisher, I teared right up,” Yale Hughes said of the moment he realized his son had won. “It was unreal, a great feeling.”
The younger Hughes got a plaque for his win, humbly noting that “Everyone got the same-sized plaque; the only difference is where it says what place you finished in.”
All of the competitors went on the field prior to Saturday’s game against the Rays, at which they and their parents were guests of the Yankees, and were recognized in pre-game ceremonies, with their names on the scoreboard.
Hughes will now wait to see how he did in comparison with winners of the Team Championships hosted by the other 29 major-league teams. The top three scorers in each age group from among the 30 MLB competitions will advance to the National Finals, which take place as part of the festivities surrounding the Major League All-Star Game in St. Louis July 14.