Swing & a memory


GREENFIELD — Before Lilly Stewart left for Cincinnati on Sunday morning as a national finalist in the Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run competition, she already started stockpiling prizes.

“She got a new bat and a glove,” her father, Jason Stewart, said last week referring to Lilly’s 31-inch Louisville Slugger LXT and pristine Easton mitt. “She was using my old glove before that. Now, she has her own.”

On Monday night, the 10-year-old Greenfield native put her unweathered leather to work while shagging flyballs during the 2015 MLB Home Run Derby.

Able to roam the outfield at Great American Ballpark for the event as a perk for being one of 24 finalists, the incoming fifth-grader at Maxwell Intermediate School hauled in the souvenir of a lifetime.

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“I caught a Todd Frazier ball,” said Lilly, a diehard Cincinnati Reds fan. “And I got hit by one, too.”

Taking one for her team as the Reds third baseman’s pop-up tailed late on descent and grazed her arm, the mild sting from the home run king’s bat quickly became one of many memories from an All-Star week she won’t soon forget.

“It was amazing. It was so awesome,” Lilly happily replied. “Getting the experience to do all this, I would have been happy if I was any place (in the competition).”

By Tuesday afternoon, she finished third in the 9- and 10-year-old girls age division.

Lilly and the other national finalists took to the field Monday afternoon prior to All-Star Workout Day.

Heavy rain showers, however, halted and then postponed the program, forcing the competitors indoors for the finale Tuesday afternoon.

The day before, each participant was timed for speed as they sprinted 160 feet along Great American Ballpark’s basepaths.

With rain a factor, once again, on Tuesday, the hitting portion was ultimately scrapped, and pitching was moved inside the Duke Energy Convention Center where the MLB All-Star FanFest was being held.

“I was looking forward to doing it all on the Reds’ field, getting to hit and getting to run and pitch on that diamond, but we didn’t get to hit at all,” Lilly said. “I was glad I was able to run the bases and get onto the field.”

Prior to the finals, Lilly won at each level of the program, beginning at Brandywine Park in April. She advanced to the sectional at Victory Field in Indianapolis and progressed to the national qualifier in Cincinnati last month before being named one of three finalists in her division June 28.

A big part of her success was her power off the tee.

“Hitting was her strongest point. The two girls she would have been hitting against, that’s where Lilly could have racked up a lot of points,” said Jason, the head softball coach at Greenfield-Central High School. “They weren’t nearly as strong in the hitting department as she was. You wish she would have had a chance to do it.”

Instead, hitting scores from the Cincinnati qualifier were carried over into the national finals, which weren’t nearly as impressive as Lilly’s totals in Hancock County or in Indianapolis.

“We found out that she was the highest-scoring competitor in the nation going into the finals. She outscored the other two girls in the original format,” Jason said. “The rain is what really hurt. Going indoors, it was different from what all the kids were used to.”

The change had an effect, Lilly admitted.

Using an outdoor strike zone in the past, the impromptu setup put the competitors face-to-face with a net backdrop and an unfamiliar target on a miniature Wiffle ball diamond.

“I wasn’t too thrilled about pitching into a net because there were people walking in the background. There were kids waving their hands up and down, trying to catch my attention and we were pitching off of carpet,” Lilly explained. “It was kind of distracting. I couldn’t concentrate. Plus, it threw me off throwing into a net.”

Despite falling short of her goal, the disappointment was short-lived.

Presented with a trophy for her achievement by former MLB All-Star and MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds, Lilly’s keepsakes only grew from there.

From official MLB team apparel to licensed memorabilia, Lilly had enough free gifts to cover her hotel room bed.

“She got more stuff than you could ever imagine,” Jason said. “Luckily, they gave us a couple of duffel bags to carry it all.”

“I got autographs from the USA softball team,” Lilly added. “I got one of the balls they used in the celebrity all-star game, a home run derby ball and one of the balls they used in the all-star game. It was amazing.”

The trip was highlighted by Tuesday’s 2015 MLB All-Star Game with each finalist receiving two free tickets.

The only thing better would be doing it all over again, said Lilly, and she’s already working on making it a summer routine.

“I’m going to try to get faster, a little bit stronger, trying to hit it farther and hit the target better, so if I do make it this far again next time, I’ll be prepared for anything,” Lilly said.