RICHMOND, Va. -- Around 2 million kids worldwide play Little League baseball at some level of the sport.
Admittedly, that number has declined over the past decade, but it hasn't stopped a love for the game that many kids share.
That love can take many forms, and show up at any age.
Justin Metacarpa is a baseball manager in the Huguenot Little League and like many other managers, he's also the father of a couple of players.
He has seen first hand what the game can do for kids both on and off the field.
"The kids love playing," Justin said. "It keeps them active. It gives them self confidence as they get better and they improve and see from season to season how much they improve."
When Metacarpa's son began playing...his now 7 year old daughter Hailey began tagging along to practice. Not one to be intimidated by a bunch of boys running around, Hailey wanted to join in.
"My brother played it and I liked it and all my friends played it so I started playing it cause it was fun," Hailey explained.
"There's 200 kids in our machine pitch division," Justin added. "She's friends and knows about half of them. That's what she prefers to play because she's friends with all the kids there."
A funny thing happened once Hailey began playing: she was pretty good. Just ask her.
"Probably from a pretty young age, she could throw the ball pretty far and she could run really fast," Justin said. "The more she did it the better she got."
And it doesn't matter to any of her teammates that she just happens to be a girl.
"Once they see her playing, they treat her just like everybody else on the team," Justin said. "She can play and that's all the other kids care about."
Hailey played well enough to enter Richmond's MLB Pitch Hit and Run competition, a nationwide event that is hosted by all 30 major league teams at their home stadiums. Kids in all divisions compete in three different categories...and Hailey has done well enough to earn a trip to Nationals Park this weekend for their regional competition in her age division.
"I'm going to pitch where you have to hit a target a little distance away," Hailey explained. "And I'm gonna hit wherever it lands first, that's where they mark it. You get points for each one. You have to run from second to home. You get points that all equals up to your number."
The only difference for Hailey is that she had to get used to throwing and hitting a softball for this competition because it's recommended that girls compete against girls. Like everything else she's done in the sport, that didn't pose much of a problem.
"I think she's only picked up a softball 3 times. One of the times was literally the night before the competition."
If Hailey advances past this weekend, she will be on the field during the home run derby shagging fly balls at Nats Park with all the other nationwide winners. If she's at all nervous about the possibility...she's not showing it.
"This is all about having fun, all about having a good time," Justin said. "She's already gotten as far as I would have liked. Being able to compete at Nats stadium is wonderful."
"She's just having a great time."
If Hailey wins this weekend's regional competition, she will go back to Nationals Park next month and be on the field for the Home Run Derby as part of the MLB All Star Game festivities.
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