By Annie Tarte / PHR National Finalist
Annie Tarte of Valrico, Fla., was a 2009 Aquafina Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run National Finalist. Annie shared her Pitch, Hit & Run experiences with MLB.com.
July 15, 2009: The bad thing about going to bed that late was that we had to wake up at 3:30 a.m.!!! Our shuttle bus to the airport at 4:15 and our flight was at 6:00 a.m.! Surprisingly the airport was kind of packed for how early it was. In fact, while my parents and I were in the security line Mariano Rivera from the Yankees was right next us. Of course, he was in the first class line and we were in the normal line. I would have tried to get his autograph except for the fact it was 5:00 a.m. so my Dad said not to bother him. The flights were pretty good and the airplanes were nice on all of our flights. I was so glad we were back in Tampa and I was texting three of my friend about my trip. I was texting Bri, Cassidy and Hannah.
At last we were pulling into my driveway when my dad said "what's that on the garage door?" There was big paper signs on it that said "congrats Annie!" and "you rock!" I could tell by the artsy letters and I just knew it was one of my best friends Bri. She lives down the street and plays on my travel ball team. It was a great welcome back kind of thing. I loved it! Once I got out of the car I saw Bri riding down to my house on her bike. She said she was watching for my car and that she put the signs out this morning. I told her everything about the trip and how fun it was. I wish it was longer but I am glad to be home.
July 14, 2009: Matt said today was going to be a busy day and he was right! Although I was glad all the pressure was gone and today was going to be all fun, it sure was packed! We started off with breakfast at 7:30 and we loaded the bus at 8 o' clock. We were on our way the greatest memorial in St. Louis. The Gateway Arch!
When we arrived, the arch looked huge! We have drove past it plenty of times while riding the bus but it never looked this big! Of course we had to take another group picture so we got positioned on the stairs, under the arch and all of the adults took pictures. It was finally time to go into the arch. We went up these weird small little circular things. We actually went up the side of the arch and to the very top. When we got there it was amazing. You were so high up and you could look out these windows they had up there. You could see so far away! If you look out one side you can see Busch Stadium perfectly. You could also see the red carpet that the All-Star players were going to get driven on before the big game that night. It was phenomenal!
It was time to go to Fan Fest again. Yesterday we also went but we wore these wristbands that lets us jump to the front of the line. But today we actually had to wait in the lines which were extremely long! Although we did get some tickets which were like the wristbands but instead of unlimited we could only get to the front of three lines. While I was Fan Fest that day I got Andre Dawson's autograph. He used to play for the Chicago Cubs and they are my favorite team on the national side. We ate lunch there and I pretty much did the same stuff as yesterday.
Now it was finally time for the All-Star Game! I couldn't wait to be in the stadium watching them play. I think the best thing that happened before the game was the giant American flag. Like 70 soldiers came out holding a humongous American flag that covered the entire outfield except for where right and left field curve up. It took a while for the game to actually start. It was already 7:40 when President Barack Obama threw out the first pitch and almost 7:55 when the actual players started to play! The game was so fun to watch but my dad started to get really tired toward the end. The players made some great plays. Albert Pujols made a great diving play at first base. He was still on the ground when he tossed it to the pitcher who was covering first and still made the out. Another great play was made by Carl Crawford of the Rays who snagged a fly that was going to go over the fence into the bullpen. Carl got awarded MVP of the game. That night we got back to the hotel around 11:15 and it was almost 12 o'clock when we were going to bed.
July 13, 2009: Bright and early, the 24 finalists were ready to head out for breakfast at the MLB Hotel. We had to get tons of pictures taken. We had to wait a while for breakfast but it was worth it! The majestic ballroom (where we ate breakfast) was so nice! There were awesome decorations and a wide variety of foods.
After breakfast, we gathered outside and crossed the street to enter FanFest. It was so cool. We did base running races, a lot of hitting stations, a fielding activity and other little things. We met three National Pro Fastpitch softball players and got their autographs. We also met Hall of Famer Juan Marichal and got his autograph. I had a lot of fun and did so much!
It was finally time to enter the Busch Stadium! We took a special V.I.P. route. We got on the field and it was HUGE! It felt really good to finally be here and to be warming up on the St. Louis Cardinals' field! We started with jogging and stretching then throwing and batting. When we finished warming up, it was almost time to compete. We went in the dugout to chill out for a minute. About five minutes past, and we lined up on the first base line to get introduced. They did some talking, and then we started the pitching. I was first in my age group and I hit 5 out of 6 targets pitching. We waited for everyone else to go and then started hitting. Distance and accuracy was going through my head as I walked up to the tee, set it at a certain height, stand in the proper spot and took some practice swings. I took two swings then set the ball on the tee. I hit pretty well but a little more inaccurate than I hoped. Us three girls hit pretty well but I wasn't paying very close attention on anyone else but there was one 13-14 boy and two of his hits were over 300 feet!!! Everyone congratulated him and we lined up at second base for the running part. We got a twenty foot head start because we had to run 160 feet and if we ran two of their bases it would be 180 feet. They had a mark to start on and a guy would say ready ... set ... go! And another person would time you with a stopwatch. I ran the 160 feet in 8.61 seconds. I think everyone was glad that it was over and that the pressure was released.
Together we went back to the dugout to wait for the results. While we were waiting we met Shane Victorino, Raul Ibanez, and Josh Hamilton and got their autographs. We also saw Albert Pujols but he was like sprinting because people were trying to take his picture and grab him and stuff. But we also met Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith! He signed everyone's baseball. Meeting him was really cool! Lunch was next. We ate near the entrance of the stadium in a designated area. We had another buffet with ballpark food. Everyone finished up lunch and we headed back out to the field through the V.I.P route. On our way there Matt Hilley asked us if we wanted to know who the champions were. Everyone was super excited and couldn't wait for him to tell us. He told us the third place, then second, then the champion. In my age group third place went to Hannah Spacek, second place was awarded to Tailor Goods, which left first place and only my name hadn't been called yet-so that meant I was in first place! Then he said it -- first place goes to Annie Tarte. It felt really cool to be the national champion! I mean how many people are titled national champion of something? At least I don't know that many. Once he announced the results, we kept walking then we ended up in the bullpen where the pitchers warm up before or during games. We were out there during Home Run Derby and if we caught the homeruns we could keep them. The reason we were in the bullpen is because there was four groups of kids who were shagging hits in the outfield and when you were not in the field you were waiting in the bullpen. We would switch off groups every two batters so our group went out twice. During the Home Run Derby there was maybe 7 or 8 home runs hit into the bull pen. Luckily I caught a home run hit by Joe Mauer! Also while I was in the outfield, I fielded one of Albert Pujols's hits that bounced off the wall. Unfortunately, we don't get to keep the balls we get in the field. . The coolest thing during Home Run Derby besides catching the home run was the awards. They announced the champions, second and third place in between the 5th and 6th batter in the Home Run Derby. It was awesome having almost 50,000 people watching you get crowned champion. Once the Home Run Derby was finished we traveled through mass chaos to our PHR (pitch, hit & run) charter bus. As soon as everyone was on the bus we headed off to the hotel.
July 12, 2009: Today I went to the airport to fly out to St. Louis for the All-Star Game and Home Run Derby and everything else we will be doing there. When I finally arrived at my hotel, we just sorta hung out for a while. We got some relaxing time before we went to the welcome reception. At 6pm we went to a ballroom in our hotel. We started it off by getting dinner. After everyone finished their meal they played a slide show that Miss Abby put together. It showed all of the national finalists and pictures from all levels of competition. Next we got a draw string back pack with the Cardinals team logo on it. It came with an Albert Pujols bobble head, a Cardinals hat and a replica wood bat. There were a lot of speeches and a lot of talking. Then we got even more stuff.
They gave us clothes for the rest of our trip, three different visors (one with the team you're representing on it) and a bunch of other cool little things. But my favorite thing I got that my dad will frame for me was a Team USA Softball jersey with the players' signatures on it! It was awesome!
June 22, 2009: For the past couple days, I have been really anxious. I can't stop thinking about my trip. I am really looking forward to meeting all the MLB All-Star players. I don't know what I want to do more -- meet all of the guys or shag hits at the MLB Home Run Derby. I also really want to see all the cool things in St. Louis like the Arch, because I have never been there. I am glad I get to take most of my family there except for one of my sisters, because it will be so fun to hang out with them there.
June 16, 2009: Today after practice Coach Mark gave me a copy of the pitching target. He told me to put it 20 inches above the ground and stand 35 feet away. I will hook it to my chain link fence in the backyard and try to practice every day.
June 15, 2009: I had just gotten home from softball camp and I was swimming in the pool with one of my best friends Cassidy Davis to cool off, my dad called me out of the pool because he said I had a phone call. He told me it was Matt Hilley. (At that time I had no idea who Matt was.) When I answered, he said, "Hello Annie, I'm Matt from Pitch, Hit & Run Headquarters. I heard that you did pretty well at the Super Regional." Matt asked me if I thought I did good enough to make it to the All-Star game in St. Louis. I pretty much knew that he was going to tell me I got in the top three. During the Super Regional Mr. Baker said "that if you don't get a call you didn't advance." So that kinda gave it away.
Matt started asking me all sorts of questions -- how tall am I? What's my shoe size? Shirt and shorts size? What are my hobbies? He told me everything about the trip to St. Louis and how lucky I am. Then he asked more questions. My favorite baseball team and player? Where is my primary position? Who is my favorite softball player? A ton of questions, but I was happy to answer them. Then he told me he would ask my dad for stats and stuff like that.
Later that night I had All-Star practice. I was getting ready and realized I never told my family about the phone call. I went to tell my mom and she already knew. I guessed my dad told about it. So I went to my brothers and sister. They said I know, I know. That was weird; everyone already knew. I wonder who else knows? So I went to my mom and she explained that they all knew this morning. I was just waiting on the phone call. So my family kept it a secret all day and I had no idea. Ok, I get it that my mom and dad knew before I did, but why my brothers and sisters?
On my way in the car to All-Star practice my dad was talking to me about how I am really lucky. I was totally and still am extremely excited. I can't wait to go everywhere and see everything!
When we got to practice I hung out on the bleachers with some of my teammates for a while until the other players showed up. Everyone started to congratulate me when I got there. They were saying about how they heard that I did really well. Most of my teammates and their parents were congratulating me. This was also really weird that they knew because I just found out a few hours ago. Then Coach Mark Braddy came to say congrats. (He is the founder of my travel ball team the Florida Fire.) I asked him how he and everybody knew. He said that my dad told him and he sent out an email to practically everyone I know from softball. So now randomly when I am at the field people will walk up and talk to me about winning and about how I feel.
June 14, 2009: I woke up bright and early with my friend Madison Farrell (nicknamed Maddog) asleep on my floor. She slept overnight at my house and I was taking her with me to Orlando for the Super Regional. She was the hitting champion and beat all of us with a cast on and batting with only one arm. The drive was around an hour and a half so I slept most of it. But the twenty or thirty minutes I wasn't sleeping, I was thinking. How could I beat all of the girls there? I mean, I just turned 11 years old and some of the girls in my age group are almost 13. I would just try my best and won't get to nervous. I was also be thinking about how great it would be to watch the MLB All-Star game in person instead of on TV, and meeting all of the players and maybe even Lou Pinella (the manager of the Chicago Cubs-my favorite baseball team.) I drowned in my thoughts and fell asleep again.
When we arrived at Barnett Park, Maddog and I got our equipment and headed over to the field with my mom. My mom signed us in and we went to warm up with one of our friends Brook Leistl, who is on our All-Star team. Brook's dad instructed us on what to do. We did running warm-ups like high knees, grape vines and jogging then sprinting. Then Maddog and I warmed throwing. We practiced hitting on one knee to throw Madison soft toss to get ready to hit. I soft-tossed to Maddog and she would hit them into the fence. We switched after ten tosses each.
Finally, the competition started and all the girls got their stuff and gathered in the dugout. We went by age group. They broke us up and sent the 7-8's and the 11-12's one way and the 9-10's and 13-14's to the other station. First I pitched, then I swapped stations and ran, and after that all of the age groups joined and went to the hitting station.
When all the girls finished we surrounded a table to hear Mr. Clay Baker announce the scores. First was 7-8's. The only person I knew was Brook's little sister Bailey. She was awarded 3rd place. Then 9-10's and this girl Alexis was given first place. She was the girl who won the national champion last year in 7-8's. My group was next. I was really excited but really scared ... mixed feelings. Third place was given out -- 800 and something points. Second place was given out -- also 800 and something points. And right now I was really nervous and had doubt that I was first place. First place, he said, "with an amazing score of 1065, she hit all six targets" (I was pretty sure it was me because I was the only one to hit all of them) ... ANNIE TARTE! He placed a gold medal with a blue strap over my head I was super excited. Everyone was cheering and clapping for me!! Mr. Baker said that if I didn't make it to the St. Louis he would be REALLY surprised. I was so overwhelmed then. It took a second to set in. Then I realized I had a really good chance of going to the All-Star game, all expenses paid! Boy would that make my dad happy. He gave the 13-14's their awards and I noticed all of their scores were also in the 800's. My mom, Maddog and I had to wait like ten minutes and then Mr. Baker took individual pictures and a group picture of all the first placeman's. He told us that although we got first place we are not automatically going to the All-Star Game. We would have to be in the top three in the country to be able to go. Because my dad couldn't make it here I called him on the phone and told him everything. I told him I hit all six targets, ran the bases in 6.8 seconds and that I hit 102 feet in all. My dad was really happy and proud.
April 25, 2009: At the beginning of this journey, I signed up to compete locally in the Pitch, Hit & Run contest. I would be with girls in my age group from my league. We did all of the same activities as we did last year when I competed as a 10 year old. We threw six softballs to a target, hit off a tee into the field and ran 120 feet. After my two league games were over I went back to the sign in table to see my scores, I was awarded pitching champion and all-around champion. They told us we would advance to the Super Regional, it would be held in Orlando and to be there at 10:00 a.m.! We got blue ribbons and I went home to show them off to my family.
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