Kern competes as sectional Hitch, Pitch & Run winner
By Mike Courson
Hundreds of youth baseball players took to the fields Saturday and Sunday as part of the June Hap Dumont Feature Tournament in Great Bend. Only one of those players also spent time on the field at Kauffman Stadium over the weekend. Great Bend’s Kale Kern finished second at the Pitch, Hit & Run (PHR) MLB Team Championship in Kansas City Saturday morning.
Kern’s journey to Kansas City began on April 30 with a local PHR competition in Great Bend, co-hosted by the Great Bend Rec Commission and Great Bend Optimist Club. That competition featured 21 boys and 10 girls scattered across various age groups.
The 2018 competition was the 13th year for the event in Great Bend, and the number of competitors varies year to year. “It really fluctuates,” said Chris Umphries, assistant recreation director at GBRC. “Some years we get 30, some years we’ve had four. I guess it just depends on the night we pick.”
Boys and girls age 7-14 are eligible to compete in the local events. As the event name suggests, each competitor is graded in three categories: pitching, hitting, and running. For the pitch, boys throw six pitches from a distance of 45 feet. Each pitch that hits a designated strike zone is worth 75 points.
The hit portion of the competition measures a player’s ability to hit for distance and accuracy. Hitting from a tee at home plate, the goal is to hit as far as possible to straightaway centerfield. The high score from three attempts is kept.
“If he hits it to the left or right, the distance off of dead center comes off his total distance,” said Umphries. “If you hit exactly on the tape measure, you don’t lose any feet. If you hit 10 feet to the right, it comes off your total.”
Finally, for the run, competitors must run a total of 120 feet, starting at second base and turning at third base. They are timed from the starting line to touches at third base and home plate.
Kern, 9, won the 9-10 & Under competition in Great Bend to advance to the sectional competition in Pratt. To advance to Kansas City, Kern needed to win in Pratt, but he also needed a top-three score out of all eight sectionals in the Royals media area that includes Kansas, Nebraska, and parts of Missouri and Iowa. “They only pick three kids from eight sectionals so it’s a pretty big deal,” Umphries said.
Kern won the Pratt sectional but had to wait three weeks before his father received an email informing him he would get to compete at Kauffman Stadium. “I was really excited,” Kern said.
Though just nine, Kern has been playing baseball for five years. Part of being a player means trips to Kansas City to watch the Royals, but he had never been on the field prior to Saturday’s competition. “It was bigger than I thought it would be,” he said.
All 30 Major League Baseball teams will host a HPR competition with sectional winners. To advance to the National Finals, this year held in Washington, D.C. as part of MLB’s All-Star Weekend, competitors must place first in his/her age group at the team level, then finish in the top-three in that age group out of all 30 competitions.
Kern finished second in Kansas City after throwing three of his six pitches for strikes. Hitting was his favorite part of the event and he excelled Saturday with a shot right over second base to score around 140 points. “It’s kind of fun whenever you get to hit it off a tee,” he said.
“He was probably, I would guess, 30-40 feet off a hit that would have gotten him into first place at Kauffman,” said Kale’s father, Rex. “It was awesome to see all the hard work he’s put in pay off with something like that. It was pretty cool.”
National finalists each receive an all-expense paid trip to MLB All-Star Weekend where they will participate in various activities on and off the field. They are also invited to shag balls during the Home Run Derby.
The HPR Hall of Fame includes a handful of MLB players and draftees. Former Royals Gold Glover Eric Hosmer was a national finalist out of Florida in 1998, and current Royals ace Jakob Junis was a national finalist out of Illinois in 2003.
Kale is back in action with his 10 & Under Great Bend Bombers baseball team. The son of Rex and Lacey Kern, Kale will enter the fourth grade in USD 428 later this year.