Scotts MLB Pitch Hit & Run Post National Finalist Experience - Kaiea Higa

7/25/2016

As my mom and I arrived in San Diego, we rushed to grab our bags because our plane’s arrival was delayed about an hour. Once we reached the baggage claim, we saw two men wearing the same green PHR shirt I was. They were talking to my dad, who had arrived an hour ago. Quickly, they introduced themselves, then gave us directions on how to get to our hotel.

I opened the window of the taxi we were riding in and absorbed the beauty that surrounded us. Hundreds of boats of all sorts rocked gently in the mild waves of the open water. Everything seemed to physically glisten. I snapped a few pictures before the buildings began to show up.

We arrived at our hotel, and as we walked in, we quickly spotted a few PHR workers who asked for my picture and needed me to sign a few things. We checked into the hotel, and as soon as we got into the room, I looked out the room window and was breathless when I could see directly into Petco Park from my room. I jumped onto the bed thinking, I was finally in San Diego.

My parents and I went over the given schedule. There was about two hours to spare tonight until all of the participants and their families met up for dinner. We decided to go walk around at the block party just across the street to kill some time…

There, we found lots of concessions, stands, and tents. Everyone was wearing jerseys, t-shirts, hats, face paint, anything to support their favorite team. I still wore my PHR shirt with pride, and I think that spoke for itself.

The weather was warmer than we were used to, so we headed back to our hotel because the dinner started in 30 minutes. We headed to our welcome reception dinner for all the finalists and sat down nervously next to one of the girls that I assumed was in my age group, introduced myself, and already knew that we were going to be friends. Our families chatted for a while and listened to Tony Reagins from MLB, Craig Cresse from USA softball (who gave us awesome USA Softball gear that you can catch me wearing 24/7), and Bennett Mayfield from PHR. MLB also gave me a jet-black, new softball bag and many other souvenirs which I couldn’t thank them enough for.

When I first walked into the room, I was really nervous… Shy, even. But as everyone talked, I felt more comfortable and relaxed with each passing minute.

Competition the next day…

I woke up to the sound of an alarm. I wasn’t too tired; Today’s energy was excitement fueled by nerves. It was the day of the competition… And I don’t think I’ve been more ready in my life.

As we exited the hotel lobby, I made sure I was wearing the correct “uniform”. White shorts… long, green socks…and an amazing Dri-fit baseball jersey with the PHR logo on the front… I am good to go!

We made our way to the All-Star FanFest. It was inside of a large, indoor facility that stretched out on the edge of downtown San Diego. We entered as a group, and since we had certain passes, we got to cut in front of the huge line that trailed out the doors. Slowly but surely, we were making our way inside.

We walked around for a few hours, searching and exploring. There were so many MLB shops and stores and everywhere I looked, people were standing in lines waiting for autographs and to participate in MLB drills. I’d honestly never imagined that MLB All-Star FanFest would look like this…a baseball-lovers’ dream.

We walked around some more, grateful to have some free-time with our families. My dad texted me that Bryce Harper was being interviewed by Jessica Mendoza.

I couldn’t believe it. First of all, if anyone said anything that has to do with Bryce Harper, I’m sold. He is my absolute favorite baseball players ever… Not to mention…he’s got great hair!

Second of all, Jessica Mendoza would be there too! She is one of my biggest role-models. It was amazing to finally see her in person. They talked about the hard work he put in growing up to become where he is today. Bryce Harper was releasing a new baseball cleat with Under Armour and they chatted of how he wanted it designed so that he & others can use it comfortably on the field.

After they finished, we met up again, ready to go to Petco Park for the actual PHR competition. WAIT… ALREADY??? Before I knew it, we were on the actual field, just about to warm up. There was a lot going on - cameras were surrounding the field, people were everywhere, and MLB Network was broadcasting live on the Petco Park 3rd baseline.

We warmed up fairly quickly. I didn’t have much time to process exactly what I was feeling, but at the moment it was mainly excitement. I was extremely anxious to begin, and soon, an announcer began to start off by introducing the first competitor, who had already stepped onto the mound. The boys and girls of all ages were lined up along the base paths, watching as the first girl pitched.

I was up about 5 girls after. When I stepped on the mound, I tuned out whatever the announcer was saying. Although I missed the first throw, I told myself to not let that hold me back, and ended up nailing the last 5.

5 out of 6… Hopefully that would be enough to be one of the best scores of the day.

Feeling pretty proud, we moved onto hitting. The distance wasn’t as far as I hit in the Team Championships, but it was a line drive and was pretty accurate and up the middle of the field.

The next event was the run and I felt ready to do my best. Surprisingly, I had the fastest time for my age group.

The competition ended and I wasn’t certain how I placed. Bennett Mayfield separated a few of us from the group and said, “You guys, are the National Champions.”

We all inhaled sharply, then began to laugh, relieved and thankful.

“I did it!” It was impossible to stop smiling. We all shook our heads, laughed, smiled, and elbowed each other. Suddenly, the 11/12 boys’ champion Elijah Hammill and I were thrown in front of a camera, microphone in hand, and were asked questions by MLB broadcasters including former Seattle Mariner pitcher Jeff Nelson! It all passed in a rushed blur and I saw my parents, who were full of pride, joy, and happiness. I don’t really remember anything anyone said…as I couldn’t fully digest what just happened.

We headed back to the hotel room and again started getting excited again as it was time to shag balls…AT HOME RUN DERBY!!

All the PHR participants arrived at the stadium and headed through a gate that led to a large room, filled with other kids who were going to shag balls. I sat next to the PHR 13/14 year-old girl’s champion Abby Larson, who I loved hanging out with.

We enjoyed watching the movie, The Sandlot while eating pizza and brownies. Soon we were making our way out of the room and headed toward the San Diego Padres’ bullpen. We were able to watch opening ceremonies and it was amazing; Fall Out Boy performed, the setup of the field was incredible, and fireworks were going off everywhere. The energy of the stadium was electric.

Finally, Home Run Derby began. I was excited and nervous at the same time knowing that I would be…on the field…With everyone watching. But all fear was lost when I realized we would be shagging for Seattle Mariner Robinson Cano (who I love) and Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins!

It was a dream come true! I watch these guys all the time on MLB Network making incredible plays, and admiring their athleticism on the field.

I snapped out of my daydream when the first ball was hit. Home run. Another swing. Home run. I had a strong feeling we wouldn’t be getting too many hits tonight… And by the time Stanton finished, 24 home runs had vanished over the fence in the first round. Unbelievable.

As he walked of the field, Robinson Cano︣︣︣︣︣︣︣ stood up to the plate. “Go represent the Mariners, Robbie! Show ‘em some Northwest Pride!” He had 7 home runs… Not enough to match Stanton’s performance. “Its okay, Robbie! We still love you back in Seattle!”

The rest of the night finished quickly. We got to shag one more time, but I believe the first one was more memorable. Again, the energy of the fans vibrated throughout the stadium, making me realize that if there was one thing that brought people together, it was baseball, America’s favorite pastime.

I was exhausted that night, but it was totally worth it. That was one of the best days of my life. Somehow I got back to the hotel, got ready for bed, and fell asleep immediately.

The next day…We woke up around the same time, ate breakfast, and met up with everyone in the lobby. We were heading back to FanFest again, eager to spend time. There, they guided us towards a small, built-in turf field where 24 large trophies were placed. One by one, each participant was announced. I received my trophy, which was surprisingly heavy. I admired it until the presentation was over.

After that, we were told that we were given about an hour and a half to do whatever we wanted. We went to go look for my dad, who had ventured off somewhere. When we found him, he handed me a Jersey…?

“Because we’re so proud of you and how far you’ve come.” He smiled.

I unfolded the jersey and observed it. The front read “American” with the old-school San Diego Padre Jersey font, one of the sleeves had the large Mariners “S” on it, and the other had the All-Star Game logo. I turned it around, and saw that my last name HIGA and a number 7 was on the back. He had it personalized just for me!

“Thank you!!!” I exclaimed, I trying it on, making sure of the sizing. Of course, it was a perfect fit. 
My excitement continued throughout the day, and became even more elevated as the All-Star Game neared.

After a few hours, my mom and I were standing at the gates of Petco Park. The stadium was bigger than it looked, and was easy to get lost in. Opening ceremonies were incredible! Rachael Platten sang the Star Spangled Banner beautifully, the giant U.S. flag was breathtaking, and filled the entire outfield, and many current servers in our military were lined-up on the field in full-uniform.

When the game actually began, I was happy that I could name almost every player on the field. Everything just seemed so familiar. It was comforting.

The American League, finished the day in happy triumph; final score: 4-2.

Sadly, tomorrow we would be leaving. I was going to miss San Diego, but I was ready to go home. Anyways, I had to get home to my teammates and prepare to head back down to Southern California in 10 days to play in the PGF National Tournament.

On July 17th, I was honored to throw out the first pitch at the Seattle Mariners home game for “Salute to Kids Day”. I found out before I left to San Diego, and was happy that they wanted me to do it… Regardless of where I placed in the finals. I was so happy I got to meet (and take pictures with) Mariners manager Scott Servais, second baseman Robinson Cano, and pitcher Nathan Karns. I hung out in the dugout for a while, and was even interviewed during ROOT Sports NW Mariners Pregame show.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank Major League Baseball, Pitch Hit & Run, The Seattle Mariners, and Scotts, for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime. I am thankful to share this with my mom and dad, and something we will remember forever. I’ve made so many memories, friendships, and have received amazing gifts and souvenirs. I’d also like to thank ASA/USA Softball, who have contributed so much already in my 5 years of playing the sport I will love for the rest of my life!

This is an experience I will never forget. See you next year…