From Stuart Field to Nats Park

Most young boys dream of playing a professional sport, and while 8-year-old Sam Vandrey of Amissville might be a few years shy of catching in the majors, he’s already almost made it to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game.

That’s due to Vandrey’s finishes in MLB’s annual across-the-country skills competition, Pitch, Hit & Run. He won his age group in the competition’s local round (held in Rappahannock County back in April) over 20 other participants.

Sam Vandrey poses in Nationals Park with his first place trophy from the team challenge of Pitch, Hit & Run. Courtesy photo.
Sam Vandrey poses in Nationals Park with his first place trophy from the team challenge of Pitch, Hit & Run. Courtesy photo.

Vandrey, the youngest member of his U9 team in the Rappahannock Culpeper Baseball League, then won his age group at the sectional competition in Manassas on May 11, before moving on to face 24 other hopefuls (three in his age group) at the championship round at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

The top three finishers from that round get to appear at the All-Star game at Citi Field, home of the New York Mets. In results posted this Sunday, unfortunately, Vandrey missed being in the top three.

Pitch, Hit & Run is divided into three challenges, much as the name suggests. The pitching portion gives contestants six attempts to throw at a 17-inch by 30-inch banner 35 feet away (representing the standard major league strike zone); each pitch that hits the target counts as a strike. The hitting competition challenges contestants to hit six baseballs off a tee, with officials measuring both the distance and accuracy of the hit. The final challenge — the running portion — is a timed 160-foot sprint from second base to home plate, with the fastest overall time winning.

Despite Pitch, Hit & Run being a nationwide competition that visits all 30 major league ballparks, this is actually Rappahannock’s first year hosting the contest, said Chris Dibble, secretary of the Rappahannock Culpeper league, based at Amissville’s Stuart Field.

Vandrey competes in the pitching challenge in Nationals Park. Courtesy photo.
Vandrey competes in the pitching challenge in Nationals Park. Courtesy photo.

“I just sort of stumbled across it,” Dibble said. “I competed in Punt, Pass & Kick [the NFL equivalent of Pitch, Hit & Run] when I was a kid . . . and then I found out it was free for the league to put [PHR] on.”

Dibble said he saw PHR as a great opportunity for all the little leaguers. “I figured why not let the kids try and see what happens?”

Vandrey originally didn’t want to compete in the contest, said his mother, Amy Vandrey. “But then Chris Dibble talked to him and told him that he couldn’t get to Nats Park unless he did Pitch, Hit & Run. Then he wanted to do it.”

Vandrey, who is entering his third year of playing baseball, said he normally plays catcher or first base. Getting to travel all the way to Nats Park was a definite highlight for him, as his favorite player — outfielder Bryce Harper — plays for the Nationals.

Vandrey says he was “a little nervous” before the competition, but enjoyed it once he got out onto the field. He can’t decide which skill test he enjoyed most, though: “I would say I liked all of them combined.”

“Very few kids got as far as he did,” said Dibble, proudly. “And he can always try again next year.”

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