Madison Hayes certainly hopes she wins her 12-under age group's top prize during today's Pitch, Hit & Run competition at Minneapolis's Target Field prior to tonight's Home Run Derby on ESPN.
But what the East Hamilton Middle High School seventh grader and her father, Adrian, really want is something any fan of major league baseball might cherish.
"The only thing I ask for is Derek Jeter's autograph," said Adrian, a huge fan of the retiring New York Yankees great.
"I got you, Daddy," said a smiling Madison late Friday afternoon, two days before she and her mother, Greta, were scheduled to fly to Minnesota to become a part of Major League Baseball's All-Star Game festivities. "That's what I want, too. I want to meet Derek Jeter. Dad and I are both big Yankees fans."
She expected to reach the All-Star Game two years ago after winning the local PH&R contest, as well as the regional trophy at Atlanta's Turner Field. But Pitch, Hit & Run is all about your score against the rest of the country. It chooses just three boys and three girls from each of four age-group divisions nationwide -- 12 youngsters total ages 7 through 14 -- to receive all-expenses-paid trips for themselves and one family member to the Mid-Summer Classic. Hayes's score just missed.
Then came last year and she finished third in Atlanta.
And when the first two of her three hitting attempts were less than spectacular at Turner Field a few weeks ago, she feared she might again miss out on a free plane ride and shagging baseballs during the Home Run Derby.
"I was very frustrated," she said.
Enter Richard West, sports director for Chattanooga Parks and Rec. At least partly because Madison's mom is the recreation director for Parks and Rec, West has grown close enough to Greta, Adrian and their three children -- Madison (12), McKenna (10) and Dee (5) -- to become known to the Hayes household as "Uncle Richard."
And because he runs the local PH&R competition each year, he traveled to Atlanta to watch Madison attempt to reach the nationals.
"Madison just gets too down on herself sometimes," West said. "And she was clearly upset after her first two swings at Turner Field. I just told her to calm down, that it just takes one swing."
Distance is important in the hitting portion of the contest. But accuracy is also key. You're attempting to hit a tape that runs straight from home plate into the outfield.
With West's words relaxing her, Hayes promptly drilled the softball off the tee into the outfield, where it landed right beside the tape. When two of her three throws found the strike zone and she ran the 160 feet from second base to third to home in 8.23 seconds, she had the score she needed, though she didn't know it until June 29th, when the finalists were announced on the MLB network.
"They told us to watch between 6:30 and 6:45 that night," recalled Greta. "But the kids were with my parents in North Carolina. When the first group was announced, the 7 and 8-year-old girls, the first name on the screen was named Madison. For half a second, our hearts stopped."
A few seconds later, they showed the 12-under trio of girls who made the cut. Madison Hayes of Ooltewah, Tenn., was at the top of the list.
"I was screaming and jumping up and down," Madison said.
"I was screaming and jumping up in down back here in our bedroom," said Adrian. "I probably shed a couple of tears; she's worked so hard for this."
Added Greta, "Usually, it's the grandparents who hear about news like this over the phone, but this time they were where it happened and we talked to Madison over the phone."
It could be tough to get Madison on the phone most days. Not only does she play softball -- "every position but pitcher, but mostly shortstop or catcher," she says -- but also basketball, track, softball and flag football. In fact, she spent Friday at UTC's new athletics complex across from McKenzie Arena playing AAU basketball for the local Xtreme team
More important, she's an honor roll student whose best subject is math.
This doesn't mean Madison is always an extraordinary young person. In addition to collecting Jeter's autograph, she also plans to take in the Mall of America with her mom, as well as collect a few trading pins of states.
And on her way to Target Field today she expects to call "Uncle Richard" for last-minute instructions.
"I'll just tell her what I always do," he said. "Stay calm. I just hope she can make the first one count so she can swing free and easy on the next two."
And should that advice deliver her the winner's trophy, what does West want Madison to bring him?
"Anything she wants to," he said. "I don't really like the Yankees, but I personally like Jeter. She can just bring me the same autograph she's getting for herself and Adrian."
If Madison can knock another one into the outfield right beside the tape, Jeter just might be the one asking for an autograph.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...