MIAMI -- On a humid morning at Marlins Park, eight-year-old Mateo Gray walked onto a Major League Baseball field for the first time in his life jitter-free.
"I was pretty confident," said Gray, a first-place winner of MLB's Pitch, Hit & Run Miami Championship. "I've never been on the field before. I've always wanted to be."
Gray was one of 21 kids, ranging from ages seven to 14, who took part in the skills contest on Saturday. He placed first in the boys 7-8 age group in Miami. Gray could now get the call to play in the program's national championship at Target Field in Minneapolis during All-Star Week.
His selection will depend on the performances of kids across the country. All 30 ballparks will host a championship some time between May 31 and June 29. Once the top regional performers of each age division are determined, participants' scores will be ranked and the top three players of each group will be selected to compete in the final round.
Gray didn't even know he might have the opportunity to meet some of his favorite players at the All-Star Game in July. His parents omitted that detail when they found out about the program because they wanted him to focus on his progress.
"When we started this, we didn't even explain to him that the All-Star Game was even a possibility," said his father Jason Gray. "So this is his ultimate goal. All he wanted to do was play in Marlins Park and he's got that chance now."
Miami's first place winner in the girls 11-12 age group was Rebecka Mellor, who has become a regular in the program. This year was her fourth straight year of competition and she's reached the team championship level each time. She even made it all the way to the Pitch, Hit & Run National Championship last year in New York. Mellor's favorite moment was when her name was called over Citi Field's speakers as she was named champion of all the 9-10-year-old girls.
"It was a fun experience," the 11-year-old said. "It was cool that we got to go to New York and see the All-Star Game and the Home Run Derby. We could see all the people coming for the Home Run Derby walking by us. We got a lot of autographs and stuff."
Another competitor, Walker Buchanan, also represented Miami in Flushing, N.Y., for the finals last season. He was eight at the time and was the runner-up in the championship round. Even though he placed third in the boys 9-10 age group on Saturday, Buchanan was just happy to hit on a major league field again.
"It's fun," he said. "It feels really different from my other fields because I feel so tiny."
Participants for the Pitch, Hit & Run National Championship will be announced June 29 on MLB Network.
Maria Torres is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less