By Libby Darden / PHR National Finalist
Libby Darden of Smithfield, Va., is a 2010 Aquafina Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run National Finalist. Libby shared her Pitch, Hit & Run experiences with MLB.com.
July 11, 2010: This morning, I had to wake up really early. But, it was easy for me because I knew I was going to California!! My whole family was going to California with me. When we flew we stopped in Philadelphia. While waiting to board, I saw a few other people from Pitch Hit & Run. I recognized them because they all had a PHR shirt on, just like me. In the LAX airport we met Abby and some other PHR participants. It was cool because we were all the way across the country and in a different time zone (three hours earlier). We took a shuttle to the hotel and had a few hours resting time before the reception dinner. In my hotel room, there was a huge bouquet of balloons! My friends, Erin and Maddie that play on my Smithfield All-Star Team sent them to me for good luck! They are great friends! At the reception, they did a slide show of all the participants. So, we got to meet everyone for the first time. The dinner was in the hotel's club room. Towards the end of the dinner, they gave us a bag full of gifts. We received our PHR uniforms for the competition and a whole bunch of great stuff. After dinner we went to bed, remember, we were still on East Coast time!
July 12, 2010: Today is competition day. We took a big Charter Bus to the MLB hotel to eat at the MLB All-Star Brunch. The buffet had a wide selection of food. The centerpieces at some of the tables were mini bats from some of the Major League teams. We all picked some out. After breakfast, we were on our way to Angel Stadium for the competition. We walked on the warning track around the stadium and sat in the dugout. The band "Train" was doing a sound check. Pretty cool. Then we went out to the outfield to warm-up for the pitching part. We also jogged a little to stretch our legs for the running part. After we warmed up we sat in the dugout to rest for the competition. An announcer called out our names and we lined up like a Major League Team. We started with the pitching, then hitting, then running. The girls went first and then the boys. We each cheered the others on. We had all gotten to be friends. The competition went by fast. After we were done the players from both the National and American League came out to warm up. We met A'Rod when we were sitting in the dugout. It was totally awesome. The girls got to meet Jennie Finch and Natasha Watley! It was so cool. They are from the Olympic and World Champion USA Softball Team. Jennie Finch is my idol. We waited in the bullpen before the Home Run Derby started. It was finally time to go out on the field and shag balls for the home run hitters. I was really excited. We were out on the field for two batters. I fielded two balls. It was so cool! Our group alternated with another group on the field. Once we were done with both batters we back inside the bullpen. We could keep the balls we caught inside the bullpen. We went out on the field one more time. After the first round, we headed to home plate and they announced us in front of the whole stadium. After the Home Run Derby, we went back to the hotel and we all got our trophies. Boy, they were big. That was a very long, but fun day.
July 13, 2010: This morning we are going to MLB All-Star FanFest at the Convention Center. FanFest is an interactive baseball amusement park. We were able to get in the front of the line for all our activities. That was cool. We got to do a lot of games, fielding and hitting practice and one that you stole home against a picture of one of your favorite players. I stole home against David Wight and got a free taco. The girls got to meet some older ladies that had played baseball a long time ago and were the inspiration for the movie "A League of Their Own." Now, that's cool. They had the biggest store full of everything for the All-Star Game. I got a National League Jersey that had my name and my number on the back. When we got back to the hotel, we had one last group meeting. They gave us some autographed balls signed by All-Stars Marlon Byrd, Josh Hamilton, and Matt Capps, all of whom we met the day before. We got a softball signed by Natasha Watley and Jennie Finch. The girls got a USA Softball jersey signed by the whole team!! My mom and I met my Dad, bother, Jack and sister, Maggie at the stadium. There were so many players that we liked on the field at the same time. Before the game started, they rolled out a huge American Flag. I've never seen anything so big. The game was great! The National League won. They haven't won in a long time. That's who I was rooting for, so it was cool that they won. When we got back to the hotel it was late. I was so tired.
July 14, 2010: We grabbed breakfast at the hotel and headed to the airport. We said goodbye to our new friends and we were back on a plane flying back to Smithfield, Virginia. When we were finally touched down in Norfolk, it was a relief, because I knew I wouldn't be doing any flying for awhile. But, I was also sad, because my long PHR journey was over. It was one the best things that has ever happened to me. I'll never forget the kids I met. I think we will keep in touch. Thanks Aquafina and MLB. What a GREAT ride!Part One:
March 20, 2010: Local Competition - Smithfield Recreation Association; This was the beginning of my exciting journey to Anaheim, California, and the Finals of the Aquafina MLB Pitch Hit & Run competition. My team, the Hurricanes, had just had our first scrimmage game at Beale Park. My mom asked me if I wanted to do this competition, just for fun! I said yes, but I had no idea how far it would get me. A few of my teammates participated and we had fun doing the different skills (pitch, hit and run). When we were done, they told us we would get the results in a few weeks. I really didn't think much more about this. It was just for fun!
April 22, 2010: Sectional Notification; Well, today, when I got home from school, my mom told me that I had pretty good scores and would move on to the second round of competition. They (local host) had sent an e-mail to all the people that would advance. They even posted it at the ball field! It said Libby Darden, All-Around Champion, Running Champion and Pitching Champion, and Heather Kennedy was Hitting Champion. Wow, that's so cool. Heather and I were so happy for each other. We knew the next round would be the Sectional Competition at Harbor Park with the Norfolk Tides (AAA minor league team of the Baltimore Orioles). I couldn't wait.
May 22, 2010: Sectional Competition; Heather and I went to the Sectional Competition at Harbor Park. We got there early and waited impatiently until they opened the gates and let us in. Once inside, we waited again to be registered. People kept coming. It was really busy. Heather and I saw Kimberly Cratsely (11/12 Girls Division Local Winner) from Smithfield Recreation, but I didn't know anybody else. There were so many people there. Finally, they lined a few of us up and took us down to the field for the competition. Our parents couldn't come down with us, so they waited in the parent's section. They told us that we would do hitting, pitching and then running. After I hit, I didn't think I did as well as the local competition. Heather and I made our way to the bullpen. Yes, bullpen, where the pitchers warm up! It was pretty neat. We were very nervous, when waiting to pitch. I threw overhand, like I did at the local competition. Next, we rested a bit, and then went out to the field to run. Before I knew it, it was all over. Now we waited and they finally announced the scores. I came in First! I couldn't believe it. Now, we had to wait to see if I would make it to the third round, the Team Championship. They said we would hear in a few weeks, after all the other sectionals took place. They would take the top three to the next level. I hope it's me.
Friday, May 28, 2010: Notice of Advancement - Washington Nationals Team Championship; Today, we received a Fed Ex envelope from Pitch Hit & Run. I'm so excited; I made it to the next level! I can't believe it. There was just one thing; I had my end of the year dance recital (I love to dance also) and the first game of my softball tournament the same day as the competition. I needed to make a decision about what to do. I knew I wanted to go to Washington DC to compete. It was hard letting my Dance instructor know that I wouldn't be in the recital. So, we called Bennett Mayfield/PHR Headquarters and let him know we would be going to DC to compete. It would be fun to go there and who knows what could happen after that. You know, it was really cool, because Kimberly Cratsley also made it to the Team Championship. Well, I did a lot of practicing before the team championship. My dad made a target for me in the back yard so I could practice. My dad and I had to figure out if I was going to throw over hand or pitch underhand. You see, I'm a pitcher on my team. After a few different tries, I did better pitching underhand. So, I practiced pitching and hitting off the tee everyday. I wanted to do well. I really wanted to win!
June 5, 2010: Washington, DC - Washington Nationals Team Championship; Saturday morning, my mom and I had breakfast in the hotel and then jumped on the metro for the stadium. When we got to the Navy Yard station we saw another girl who looked like she was going to also do the competition. We walked to the stadium, it took 5 minutes, there were other kids starting to arrive. I talked to one of the girls and we warmed up together. Kimberly finally arrived and we took lots of pictures and warmed up. When all the PHR people came we registered. I got a shirt and a visor. My mom took more pictures! There were 24 of us and we headed down to the field. My mom got to sit real close in the stands. I was happy. We hit first. My last hit was my best. Then the girls ran over to the bullpen areas to warm up our arms. We came back and we did our pitching. I hit the target 5 times. I was very happy. Then we ran, but not on the field. We ran on the warning track in the outfield. After all that, we sat around waiting for the results. Finally, Bennett announced the winners in each age group. When my age group came up, I thought I had done very well, but, I was nervous. He announced Third place , then Second Place ., then I knew I had won!! He announced my name, Libby Darden, First Place. Wow! The next age group up was my friend Kimberly's. She also won First Place. It was so cool that two people from Smithfield Recreation made it all the way to the Team Championship and won first place.
Bennett talked to all the parent's of the First Place winners and gave us some information on what to expect. We had a chance to go all the way! The Finals of PHR in California! Wow! They would compare our scores to all the other winners at the other 29 MLB ballparks. He said they would call us if our score was not in the top three. Could I get there? Who knows? All I knew now was that we were going to be introduced at the Washington Nationals' game that night. We would be on the JUMBOTRON! We wore our PHR t-shirt and visor and all met to head on the field. We got to go below the stadium and go out on the field. The Mascot was playing with us, he was so funny! They introduced all the First Place Winners. It was great. After that, we watched the game and went back to the hotel.
Waiting After the Team Championships: It seemed to get routine for us to check out the PHR website. We were always checking to see if something new was added. We saw our pictures from Washington and from other MLB parks. One week went by, then two. We kept checking to see how many teams were left. It got to be the last weekend and only five teams hadn't done their competition. I still hadn't heard anything. We called Kimberly; unfortunately, she had gotten one of those phone calls saying she would not advance. We waited out the last weekend and this is what happened next...
Monday, June 28th, 2010: Finalist Notification; Today, I got the call. I was cleaning my room and my mom randomly handed me the phone. I asked her who it was but she didn't say. I said "Hello," and on the other end the man said, "Hi, I'm Bennett Mayfield, do you remember me from the Nationals' Team Championship? I'm calling to congratulate you." I could already tell I made it to California by the way my mom was looking at me. We talked for a long time and he asked me lots of questions, like my batting average, what position I play, some of my hobbies. When I hung up the phone, I screamed. I was so happy! Now, wherever I go, people are congratulating me and telling me good luck. It's so awesome!
I'm going to California to compete in the National Finals of the Pitch Hit & Run in Anaheim, California. I cannot wait! California, here I come!
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.