Abigail Craige had genetics on her side when she entered the batter’s box at the annual Phillies Home Run Derby earlier this month.
The Seaville 12-year-old is the only child of Amy and Doug Craige, both of whom earned membership on Stockton University’s “Teams of the ‘90s” in softball and baseball, respectively. Mom, an All-Conference performer in high school, was a second baseman in college. Dad was a designated hitter and catcher for the Ospreys.
Abigail earned 32 points including five long balls in 10 swings to win the girls’ 11 and 12 year-old division at Citizen’s Bank Park.
According to the rules, hitting the softball 100 feet is worth two points while smacking the sphere 125 feet is valued at five points. A foul ball and a swing and miss is zero points while any fair ball is one point.
“She’s entered in the past and made it to the regionals,” said Doug, a local realtor. “She couldn’t participate last year due to injury, but she’s a tough kid and she loves playing softball.”
Doug and Amy, a veterinarian technician, travel across the region to support their daughter’s participation in travel team softball, where the Upper Township Middle School pupil faces high level competition.
“She had her first game for her new 14-U team in Little Egg Harbor last weekend and she hit a home run in her first at bat,” said Doug, who has served as his daughter’s rec league coach.
Dad said Abigail has participated in the usual sporting activities while growing up, including soccer, horseback riding and basketball but she really loves softball.
“She’s going through the normal progression of being a kid playing softball,” said Doug. “It’s something that we all love doing. She’s lucky enough to have parents with knowledge about the game.”
The Phillies Home Run Derby consists of three levels of competition, including 7 to 8 year-olds, 9 and 10’s, and the 11 and 12-year-old division. Local events are held April through July with the top three winners advancing to regionals. The regionals are contested in eight locations. Each local winner is assigned to a regional location and the first place competitor in each division advances to the championships, which are contested prior to a regular season Phillies’ game.
Batters receive one practice swing and 10 competition swings. Since a pitching machine is used, every pitch should be the same; however, there are times that a pitch is high or low as determined by the Home Run Derby operator. If this happens, the batter receives another pitch. Batters do not have to swing at every pitch.
Phillies Home Run Derby alumni include Aaron and Brett Boone, Ben Davis, Mark Gubicza, Jeff Manto, Jaime Moyer, Mike Scioscia, John Smiley, Mike Trout and Erik Kratz, a current Phillies’ reserve who presented trophies to the winners.
The competition started in 1971 when Jack Bradley, an avid Phillies fan, began the Home Run Derby. Jack’s sons, Paul and John, who participated in the Home Run Derbies themselves, now run the program.
When it began, six Home Run Derbies were held and children competed in three age divisions. The winners of each local competition competed in the Home Run Derby Championships held at the Phillies’ then new home, Veterans Stadium. As the program’s popularity increased, the competition became three rounds, including local, regional and the championship round.
It has since become one of the Phillies’ most successful and long-running programs, including the addition of a softball division for girls. The home run hitting contest annually serves more than 22,000 children in 51 local competitions.
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