Like father like son

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2008

VIDALIA — When Whest Shirley went to the Vidalia High School baseball field one Saturday morning 28 years ago to participate in the local Pitch, Hit and Throw competition, he never thought that it would lead to a trip to Houston and a chance to play on the Astrodome field.

Sunday, Shirley will be making the trip back to Houston. But this time, it will be as a guest of his son Pate, who will be participating in the event at Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros.

Just like his father did when he was a kid, Pate, 10, won the local competition in Vidalia then the sectional competition in Nachitoches, La.

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“I told him that I went down to the baseball field on a Saturday morning (for the competition) and wound up in Houston,” Whest Shirley said. “Let’s see what you can do.”

They didn’t know Pate had won until a letter arrived in the mail on June 2, Pate’s 10th birthday.

“We got the letter and were like, ‘Should we open it?’,” Whest said. “We opened it and found out he had won the sectional. That was his birthday present that day.”

Pate agreed that the letter was a good birthday present.

“I was excited (when the letter came),” he said.

Pitch, Hit and Run is Major League Baseball’s competition for kids, akin to the National Football League’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition.

Participants get points for how many balls they can throw in the strike zone, how far they can hit a ball off a tee and how fast they can run from second base to home plate.

Pate is participating in the team championships on Sunday. Each of the 31 Major League Baseball teams is hosting the competition. The top two scorers from the 31 winners will participate in the national finals at the MLB All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium in New York City.

Concordia Parish District 3 Recreation Director Mike Bowlin, who organized the Vidalia Pitch, Hit and Run competition, said it was quite an accomplishment for a Vidalian to advance to the team championships in Houston.

“This is the first year we’ve had Pitch, Hit and Run in a long time,” Bowlin said. “It just goes to show that you never know. Even a small town like Vidalia can have someone who can go all the way to Houston.”

When Whest participated as a 13-year-old in 1980, he finished second in the Astros team competition. Pate thinks he can do better than that.

When asked if he was going to win, the soft-spoken Pate gave a big head nod.

But even if Pate doesn’t win, or even match his father’s finish of second, it will be quite a Father’s Day.

The competition is before the Astros’ game against the New York Yankees and MLB gave each participant three tickets to the game, which allowed Whest to enjoy the game with Pate and his 12-year-old daughter Whestley.

“I get to sit there with my two kids and watch a baseball game,” Whest said. “You can’t have a better Father’s Day than that.”