By Dick Dornan
BurbankNBeyond Sports Editor
It all started one afternoon on April 29 at Olive Park. There was Erin Lashkari throwing, hitting and running her way around the softball diamond as she participated against fellow friends and teammates in the first round of qualifying for the 2011 AQUAFINA MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PITCH, HIT & RUN competition.
Little did she realize that this would mark the beginning of a memorable run for her and her family. Lashkari, 10, advanced from Burbank to Lancaster to Angel Stadium in Anaheim and now to Chase Field in Phoenix, Arizona. Her talents have earned Lashkari a spot in the championship finals of the Pitch, Hit and Run event on Monday, July 11, at noon as a part of the Major League Baseball All-Star Festivities.
BurbanknBeyond.com will be the first to report the exclusive news on Monday afternoon as Lashkari competes for the national championship amongst her age group.
More than 600,000 youth participated in over 4,000 competitions that took place across North America. For a second year, a nationwide Girls Softball Division was part of the program which allowed girls to compete and advance separately from the boys throughout the competition.
Lashkari is one of 24 finalists overall and she is one of three competitors in the 9-10 year old girls age division. She will represent the city of Burbank and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Her opponents hail from Navarre, FL and Bradenton, FL and will represent the Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins, respectively.
“I’m very excited,” Lashkari said with a smile as wide as the vast surroundings at Olive Park.
Will nerves be an issue for her as she takes to the field on Monday afternoon to determine the champion?
“No,” Lashkari stated confidently. “I don’t get nervous easily. This is really special and rewarding. It tells me that I am a good player.”
Erin playing for her team, ‘Skittles’ (Photo Courtesy Alex Valladares)
The competition includes three areas of softball where the finalists will demonstrate their accuracy, strength and speed. The first event is the pitching portion where Lashkari will throw six pitches at a target from a distance of 35 feet. The target is 20 inches off the ground and a couple feet in width and height. In Anaheim, Lashkari connected on five of six throws.
Next is the hitting segment where Lashkari will hit a softball off a tee at home plate. She will have three swings to strike the ball solidly for hitting distance and accuracy with a straight line being used as the barometer. Again, in Anaheim she nailed a hit straight to center field that outdid her opponents.
The final event is running as Lashkari will sprint her fastest from second base to home plate while being timed.
All three events are scored and the competitor who scores the most points will be crowned the 2011 AQUAFINA MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PITCH, HIT & RUN NATIONAL CHAMPION for girls ages 9-10. All this on the field of the Arizona Diamondbacks where a sold-out crowd is expected to attend on a day that will conclude with the popular Home Run Derby contest.
Back at home in Burbank where Erin’s mother’s family has resided since 1951, Lashkari plays softball for Burbank Park and Recreation. Her team, The Skittles, is currently 13-1 on the season. She has played softball for five years and her positions include second base, shortstop and catcher. Lashkari is batting .417 and has two home runs this season. Her favorite team is the New York Yankees and her favorite player is the Dodgers’ Rafael Furcal.
But on this wonderful day in Phoenix, Lashkari will find herself surrounded by Major League Baseball’s best players, including future Hall of Famers Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees. Her brother, Sean, can’t wait for the Home Run Derby while her mom, Karen, and dad, Neil, will also accompany Erin to the All-Star Fan Fest followed by the MLB All-Star Game.
“This is really special and we are enjoying the process,” said Karen Maas, Erin’s mother. “I don’t think the reality of it has sunk in as for the high level that she has gotten too. And I’m kind of glad.
“We don’t want to get things out of perspective. We are just a normal happy family. She’s not a huge superstar but a solid player. She has done well at the competitions and we are just so excited for her. This is something we will put up on our wall and be proud of forever.”
Erin’s parents are both 1976 Burbank high alums who met at their 15th high school reunion and married a few years later. Erin is looking forward to being a Bulldog one day and playing softball. But this weekend is about representing the city of Burbank, doing her best and enjoying the total experience. She has been practicing at Brace Park for her “moment in the sun”.
Dreams do come true for some who aspire to play in the Big Leagues. For this adorable 10 year old, it’s a day for Erin to remember and cherish as her determination, skill level and passion for softball has landed her front and center with 23 other fortunate kids playing the game they love as America’s past time is celebrated in this traditional mid-summer classic.