Lilly Stewart is 10, so there are other important things in life besides softball.
Like how to wear her long, wavy, caramel-colored hair for games. French braid? Side braid? Or standard ponytail?
She is 10. So life is grand when she can talk her mom into a trip to McDonald’s for a clubhouse burger – cheese and bacon only.
But really, those things are minor, Lilly knows, compared to her major league accomplishment: Finishing as one of 24 finalists – out of 625,000 youth – in the Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run competition.
Lilly, an incoming fifth-grader at Maxwell Intermediate School in Greenfield, will take the field Monday at Great American Ball Park during MLB’s All-Star week in Cincinnati. She will compete to be the champion in her 9- and 10-year-old girls division.
And as she takes the field, approaches home plate to hit, the mind-boggling numbers will be floating somewhere in the back of her mind. She knows what she’s done is a rare feat.
“It’s amazing,” she says as she stands next to the dugout at Brandywine Park, where her mom, Melissa Stewart, and brother, Logan Norrod, just finished a softball practice with her. “I thought it was just for fun. I didn’t think it would go this far, to be one of the best ones.”
One of the best, not of hundreds, not of thousands, not of half a million kids. Lilly is among the best of more than 625,000 youth across North America who tried out in 4,400 different competitions.
Of course, people saw it coming. If Lilly is around, a softball is not far away. And it’s been that way since she could walk.
Melissa Stewart was pregnant with Lilly when her dad, Jason Stewart, started coaching the Greenfield-Central High School softball team.
“She’s always been on a field,” said Melissa Stewart, who lettered in varsity softball all four years at Greenfield-Central. “She was on the field in the womb.”
By two years old, Lilly was picking up a Wiffle ball and bat and swinging inside the house. At 4, she was playing tee ball. But she didn’t need the tee.
When there wasn’t a game or practice, Lilly would beg her parents to go in the backyard to hit.
“She just picked up a ball and a bat and ever since she’s loved it,” Melissa Stewart said. “It’s constant. There is a softball in her hand every day.”
On car rides, Lilly – who pitches and plays middle infielder for the Pendleton Irish travel softball team – takes a softball and tosses it up and down, playing catch with herself. She likes to draw when she’s bored, but she draws softballs.
And if she’s not playing softball?
“I’m probably thinking about playing softball,” Lilly says.
Trying out for the MLB youth competition, however, happened by chance.
Lilly was playing softball in a tournament in April at the same park where the first round of the competition happened to be taking place. Her aunt was helping run it and urged Melissa Stewart to have Lilly give it a try.
“I called Lilly over and she said, ‘Sure. I’ll try it I guess,’” Stewart said.
Trying meant hitting a ball off of a tee. Lilly nailed it, with her 31-inch Louisville Slugger, hitting it more than 140 feet. She placed first in her division.
A trip to Victory Field followed for another round of tryouts in May. Lilly won again, hitting the ball 146 feet, and then went to the third round at Great American Ball Park in June.
Her hits, her speed – measured across 160 feet starting just past second base to home plate – and her throws in the strike zone were above the rest. She again placed first.
The feat made Lilly eligible for the finals, but she wouldn’t know if she made the All-Star week competition until June 28, when the 24 finalists were announced live on “MLB Tonight” on MLB Network.
As Lilly watched, her name flashed on the television screen.
“I just want to do better than I have,” she said. “Hit it farther, score more points.”
Monday, Lilly will take on just two other girls in her age division, pitching, hitting and running, trying to become the champ.
She will also get to shag balls during the MLB Home Run Derby. Her goal is – with a Sharpie in tow – to get autographs of some of baseball greats.
Her two favorite players are Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips of the Cincinnati Reds.
Some day, Lilly would like to be a professional player herself.
“They should have a professional softball league,” she says. “I have some friends that are really good at softball. We could do it.”
She has a good shot with her latest accomplishment. Two former Pitch, Hit & Run National Finalists – Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals and Chris Parmelee of the Baltimore Orioles – have reached the Major Leagues.
And if a women’s pro team doesn’t come about, Lilly likes the idea of playing college softball and maybe even making it to the Olympics.
“She sleeps, eats and breathes softball,” Melissa Stewart said. “She’s something else.”