VALRICO — For the past few weeks, Annie Tarte has been practicing with her All-Star team in preparation for next weekend's sectional tournament. She has been hitting line drives, shagging fly balls and working on her base running at the Bloomingdale Little League field.
On Monday she'll be doing the same — just at a slightly bigger venue.
As one of three finalists in the 11-12 softball division of the Pitch, Hit and Run, Annie earned a trip to next week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game in St. Louis. She will compete in the skills competition prior to the MLB Home Run Derby at Busch Stadium on Monday.
"It's very exciting," Annie, 11, said of her upcoming trip. "When we got the phone call, I was just so happy to have made it that far."
MLB's Pitch, Hit and Run program is a skills competition that has been held the past 13 years for kids aged 7-14, with points awarded in each of the categories depending on performance. To reach Monday's finals, Annie won a local competition at Bloomingdale Little League before doing the same at a super regional in Orlando.
"When we competed locally, I wasn't thinking about getting to St. Louis at all," Tarte said. "But I won that one and then did really well in Orlando."
Steve Tarte, Annie's father, said it was the pitching accuracy portion of the competition in Orlando that boosted his daughter's final score.
"A lot of the girls were close in terms of the hitting and running portions," he said. "But Annie was the only girl to hit all six targets in the pitching portion, and the guy who runs it up there said he would be shocked if she didn't advance to the (national) finals."
Even after winning in Orlando, she still had to wait to see if she was one of the top three scorers in her age division.
"Then they called us to say Annie had made it," Steve Tarte said. "Our family is just really psyched about it."
It is the second year in a row a girl who plays for the Florida Fire, a local youth softball club based out of the Bloomingdale Little League, has reached the finals. Raelynn Nichols earned a trip to the MLB All-Star Game last summer at Yankee Stadium.
"We know the (Nichols) family from around the softball park," Steve Tarte said. "We all watched what (Raelynn) went through with the media and got a taste of what to expect."
Annie said she "couldn't wait" to compete in the finals that will take place as fans file into Busch Stadium for the Home Run Derby, but she said she is just as eager to soak in all the aspects.
"I'm really excited to meet the All-Stars and to shag balls during the Home Run Derby," she said. "I hope I get to meet Evan Longoria and Lou Piniella, and I want to see the (St. Louis Gateway) Arch."
Annie, a student in the International Baccalaureate program at Williams Middle School, won't travel alone. Both of her parents will accompany her. Annie's two brothers, her sister and her grandfather also plan to make the trip.
"It's turned into quite a family vacation," said Steve Tarte, who also coaches Annie with the Fire. "My kids have been my hobby, so it will be something to see her running around on that field."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.