Chase becomes a field of dreams for E.V. youths in All-Star fun - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Chase becomes a field of dreams for E.V. youths in All-Star fun

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Mike Sakal’s column runs on Fridays. Contact him at (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com, or write to Mike Sakal, East Valley Tribune, 1620 W. Fountainhead Pkwy., Suite 219, Tempe, AZ 85282

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Posted: Friday, July 8, 2011 5:15 am | Updated: 10:19 pm, Mon Jul 11, 2011.

All right, all right. I'll admit it, and have no problem in doing so.

I'm jealous of the opportunity a 7-year-old Mesa girl and a 13-year-old Tempe boy have as part of the festivities leading up to the 82nd annual Major League All-Star Game at Chase Field on Tuesday.

The newsroom is laughing at me, because they know I wish I were in Lita Vorseth's and Ryan Novis' baseball shoes.

Ryan, the son of Scott and Stacey Novis of Tempe, and an eighth grader-to-be at Kyrene Middle School, has an all-expenses-paid trip to the All-Star Game. He will be staying at the Sheraton Phoenix Airport Hotel in Tempe not far from his home. Lita, the daughter of John and Fuji Vorseth, and a third grader-to-be at Washington Elementary School, also has an all-expenses-paid trip for Tuesday's game.

The two East Valley kids are in an elite group.

At 12:15 p.m. at Chase Field on Monday, Lita, who plays softball for the Mesa Little League District Seven's 7-8-year-old Mets team, and Ryan, who plays for the nationally-ranked Chandler Rangers baseball club, will participate in Major League Baseball's annual Pitch, Hit and Run competition. They will execute their fundamental baseball skills among a field of 24 kids, ranging in age from 7 to 14.

More than 600,000 youth participated in more than 4,000 Pitch, Hit and Run competitions across the United States before 24 were selected as finalists through a scoring system, according to information from Major League Baseball.

I would have pined to have been in that group of finalists, say, maybe 30 years ago, being the baseball nut I was and somewhat still am.

As a teenager, I once stood on the warning track of Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium outfield late one night after a Reds game when a grounds keeper let me and a couple of my cousins in through an open gate in the outfield wall. There was something romantic about just standing on a Major League Baseball field, an empty stadium as its lights were systematically being turned off, feeling tinier than I ever had been in my life, and also realizing that playing baseball on AstroTurf would have taken its toll on a body during the course of a playing career.

But there's no better time than the present, and Lita and Ryan will be on real grass among the cream of youth baseball's crop who earned the opportunity to display their skills on a Major League field. The players competed at local, state and regional levels before making it to Monday's big show to represent the major league teams closest to them.

Lita and Ryan will represent the Arizona Diamondbacks, which has right fielder Justin Upton in the National League All-Star starting lineup on Tuesday. Richelyn Villanueva of Winslow is the only other Arizonan participating in the Pitch, Hit and Run event. She is in the 13-14-year-old girls division.

Lita is the youngest participant. She scored 708 points out of 818 in the regional competition to advance to nationals.

Lita also participates in soccer, basketball and Taekwondo, but she says softball is her favorite sport.

Both kids are excited as the big day nears. "I feel a little nervous because when you hit, you want to hit the ball into the outfield," Lita said. "My strong point is batting."

Will she try to hit any out of the park?

"No, but I've hit inside-the-park home runs," Lita said. "I feel really grateful to be on the field because major leaguers play on it."

Lita's father, John Vorseth, who serves on the Mesa Little League Board of Directors said, "It's definitely been an interesting climb for her to get here."

Ryan is one to be watched as a triple threat - pitching, hitting and running. He earned the nickname "Spider" when he was 6 because he was the only one on his team who could catch fly balls. He has always wanted to shag fly balls during a home run derby, which the finalists will get to do after they are done displaying their skills.

"I didn't think I'd make it this far," said Ryan, who scored 1,334 points to advance to the national competition in his third year of competing in Pitch, Hit and Run. "I'm really excited. Hitting is my strong point. It's great to be one of the ones who advanced. I've only seen an All-Star game on television."

His mother said, "He's worked very hard for this. I'm proud that his hard work paid off."

Some of my memories of All-Star games past include watching now Hall of Famers Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer embroiled in pitching duels, a Pete Rose head-first slide, and former Milwaukee Brewer Kurt Bevacqua winning the Topps bubblegum blowing contest in 1975.

It also was bittersweet to see Cincinnati Reds catcher Johnny Bench and Boston Red Sox left fielder Carl Yasztremski each play their last All-Star game in 1983, marking the end of an era and signaling an end to seeing heroes of my childhood play the game. Some media outlets are billing the All-Star game at Chase Field as lackluster and lacking "star power," but Lita and Ryan are among a group of kids lucky to be on the same field as the heroes of their generation.

And I'm excited, too. It's always interesting to see who wins the game billed as baseball's Midsummer Classic.

And I'm jealous of the rare opportunity Lita Vorseth and Ryan Novis will have right in their own backyard, to play baseball inside a Major League ballpark.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6533 or msakal@evtrib.com

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