Keaton Frey used to watch the youngsters retrieving baseballs hit by professional players during the home run derby at the televised Major League Baseball (MLB) All-Star games and wonder how they got such a cool gig.
But now, the 14-year-old Mar Vista resident no longer needs to imagine.
He was doing it himself this time.
As the semifinal winner of the Pepsi Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run competition in the 13-to-14-year-old division at Dodger Stadium, Frey earned a spot in the national finals of the competition in San Francisco.
Not only did Frey win an all-expenses-paid trip for him and his father to the finals held Monday, July 9th, but he got to be a guest at the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday, July 10th, which includes top players from throughout the National and American Leagues.
Even more, Frey and the other national finalists learned just who those youngsters chasing the home run derby baseballs are, as they participated as “shaggers” in the derby July 9th.
“I always wondered who those kids were who were shagging the balls during the home run derby,” said Frey, who will enter the ninth grade at Venice High School Magnet this fall. “Now I know because I’m one of them.”
The six-foot-two Frey, who plays primarily first base for the North Venice Little League, reached the Pitch, Hit & Run finals by getting past three earlier stages beginning in April.
Pitch, Hit & Run, which is the official skills competition of Major League Baseball, is a grass-roots program providing youths across North America with an integrated competition that recognizes individual excellence in core baseball skills, according to MLB.
In the competition, players’ pitching skills are tested for accuracy, hitting skills are tested for power, accuracy and distance, and running skills are tested with a timed run from second base to home.
This year’s competition included more than 600,000 players across the country, and in the end, the top four competitors from each of the four age divisions (seven to eight, nine to ten, 11 to 12 and 13 to 14) advanced to the national finals. Coming in to the finals, Frey earned the highest score of all competitors with just under 1,400 points, his father Randy said.
The Pitch, Hit & Run finals were part of MLB All-Star Week events at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Frey finished in fourth place in his age division at the competition July 9th, his father said.
In addition to attending the All-Star Game and home run derby, Frey and the finalists received a tour of the DHL All-Star FanFest, an interactive baseball theme park, and participated in the Pitch, Hit & Run clinic on the Pepsi Diamond.
“It was a dream come true,” Frey said of being a national finalist and getting to attend the All-Star Game with his family. “It was very exciting and overwhelming.”
Frey’s road to the competition finals went through Dodger Stadium, where he took first place in his age division. He described the feeling of playing on a Major League field, saying it was “every Little Leaguer’s dream.”
While Frey was able to step on the field of the home team, he noted that his allegiance lies with the Boston Red Sox. The young player said he was especially looking forward to seeing slugger David Ortiz of the Red Sox at the All-Star Game.
But while he played in front of mostly family and friends at Dodger Stadium, Frey noted that he expected it to be “overwhelming” to play in front of thousands at the All-Star event.
In learning that he was one of the few players who would get to go to the All-Star Game, Frey said he became speechless.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said of the news. “I never thought I’d get to go there.”
Frey’s father said he was proud to see how far his son has made it in the sport and was also quick to express his excitement about going to the All-Star Game courtesy of Keaton’s talent.
“I get a free ride on the back of my son to go to the All-Star Game,” Randy Frey joked.
For Keaton Frey, the Pitch, Hit & Run success is a continuation of an impressive Little League season, in which the North Venice team had an undefeated record of 20-0 on the way to capturing the Junior Division championship for the first time in 50 years.
Frey currently plays for the North Venice all-star team and has two home runs, 18 RBI (runs batted in) and a batting average of .315.
Next season, Frey has his sights set on playing for the Venice High Gondoliers baseball team. He said he has already made the junior varsity squad for basketball and he is ready to continue excelling on the baseball diamond.