FUQUAY-VARINA — The Triangle will have one representative in Minneapolis for Major League Baseball's All-Star Week, and his name isn't Josh Hamilton.
Hamilton, 33, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound lefty from Raleigh who plays for the the Los Angeles Angels, has been an all-star five times, and has more than 1,000 hits and 500 runs in his seven years in the majors.
This year's representative is much younger, much smaller and has a much shorter baseball resume.
Jake Pereira, a 4-foot-1, 55-pound right hander from Fuquay-Varina, began playing T-ball at age 4. By age 6, he was a member of an 8-and-under all-star team. Now, at 8, he is one of 24 national finalists in MLB's Pitch, Hit & Run competition and is making his first appearance at an MLB All-Star game.
In addition to vying for a championship Monday, Jake will shag balls during the Home Run Derby and attend Tuesday's All-Star game and an MLB brunch with his dad.
To his mom, Jamie, Jake's "your typical 8-year-old boy."
The youngest of three brothers, Jake's been around baseball since he was in an infant carrier.
"It's something our family has always been into," Jamie Pereira said.
After Banks Hartman, 9, a family friend from Fuquay-Varina, was named a national finalist in last year's MLB Pitch, Hit & Run competition and participated in the championship round during All-Star Week in New York, the Pereiras thought they'd give it a shot this year with Jake. Hartman finished in the top three in his age division but did not win.
More than 625,000 boys and girls across North America participated in the first round of this year's competition in four age groups separated by gender.
The Pitch, Hit & Run competition tests kids' baseball ability in three ways. Seven and 8-year-old boys must throw a softball into a strike zone from 45 feet away; hit with accuracy and power off a tee toward centerfield; and run as fast as possible for 160 feet, touching third and home along the way.
Jake Pereira's local performance qualified him to compete in the sectional round and then on to the MLB team championship, which each major league team hosted. After winning the 7-8 boys' division in the Atlanta Braves' championship round, the Pereiras waited to see if Jake's score was among the top three nationwide. The finalists were announced live on MLB Network on June 29.
Jake Pereira plays kid-pitch travel ball for the Western Wake Wildcats. So the family was rushing home from a baseball tournament in Rocky Mount, trying to catch the 3:15 p.m. announcement. When they made it home, they reacted to hearing Jake's name called with jubilation.
"We've got two kids in two years from Fuquay that have made it all the way to the All-Star game, which is pretty amazing," Jamie Pereira said. "It says a lot about Fuquay baseball, I think, and how competitive these kids are."
While most kids are watching cartoons in the morning, Jake is watching "Quick Pitch" baseball highlights on MLB Network.
"That's the kid who wants to go to practice," Jamie Pereira said. "If his practice is rained out or canceled, he's upset, and then if that happens he's in the garage practicing. There's always a baseball in my house being thrown."
Jake said he was shocked to hear his name called, but he was excited. He had hoped to meet his favorite player, Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants, but the two-time all-star did not make the team.
"I play the same position as him," said Jake, who added that he plays similar to Posey. "I hit the ball good, and I'm good at catching."
Win or lose, Jamie Pereira said she couldn't be more proud of Jake, not only because of how well he's done in the competition but also how he's handled it.
"He's a great kid," Jamie Pereira said. "I know he's mine, but I think he's amazing. This is an experience that he won't have again in a lifetime."