LOS ANGELES -- Ever wonder what a Major League stadium is like before 8 a.m.?
Well, before Dodgers stars like Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw arrived on Friday, 24 boys and girls found out the answer to that question when they took the field at Dodger Stadium as part of the Pitch, Hit & Run competition.
With a cloud of morning fog hanging over the ballpark and the 56,000-seat stadium empty -- aside from a few dozen parents in the stands near the left-field pole and the grounds crew -- the young baseball and softball players took turns hitting off a tee, running the bases and throwing at a strike zone.
"It's not every day you get to go to a Major League Baseball stadium," said Emma Hotaling, from Morro Bay, Calif. "It's so amazing. It was so crazy when I first stepped onto the field. It's just so big. I was really blessed to be here."
Hotaling came in first place for the girls' 13-14 division. Kids between the ages of 7 and 14 came out trying to earn a spot in the national finals during All-Star weekend in Kansas City.
There were four age divisions for each gender and three kids in each age group. All 30 teams host the event and the top three finishers for each each group and gender advance to Kansas City.
"It's a very special experience for these kids to get on an MLB field," said Abby Lane, a coordinator from Pitch, Hit & Run. "You see their eyes go wide and they get a little nervous, but it's very cool for them."
The program started in 1997 and it is a free event for all boys and girls. The competition starts at the local level and followed by a sectional round. The next round is the MLB team championship, which took place Sunday for the Dodgers, and the best 24 in the country advance to the All-Star Game.
Each boy and girl started with the hitting portion with three swings off a tee set up in left field. After that, the participants got to throw six pitches at a strike zone and then simulated running the distance from second to home while cones were set up in center field.
Hotaling said she was nervous at first and tried to hit the ball too hard and struggled with her first throw. But once she calmed her nerves, things started to pick up, adding that the highlight of the day was all the fun she had on the field.
Zireon Weatherspoon, from North Las Vegas, Nev., said the highlight was how much fun the morning was as well.
Nevertheless, Weatherspoon, who won the boys' 13-14 division, said despite the fun and games that it was a definite competition.
Like Hotaling and many of the other participants, it was his first time on the field and he said it was an amazing feeling getting to walk in the outfield where his favorite player, Andre Ethier, plays.
"It was like a dream come true," he said. "I wish I could come out here and play all the time.
"But I'm going to be out here in like five years," he added with a confident smile.
Kemp, M. Ellis will join Dodgers on road trip
LOS ANGELES -- Manager Don Mattingly said Matt Kemp and Mark Ellis will travel with the Dodgers on the road this week, while Matt Guerrier, Ted Lilly, Justin Sellers and Javy Guerra will stay back with a trainer.
"They are doing a ton of baseball work," Mattingly said about Kemp (strained left hamstring) and Ellis (left leg injury). "They are on the field taking batting practice now and they are able to do a lot more stuff on the field."
He added Kemp seems to keep progressing and Ellis is doing really well. As for the players not traveling to Oakland, he said Sellers' recovery from a bulging disc in his back is taking some time and Lilly (left shoulder inflammation) has been a process. However, Guerra (right knee inflammation) is doing well and Mattingly reaffirmed that he will travel to San Francisco next week.
With Lilly, Mattingly said the pitcher is feeling better and there is more of an optimistic feeling lately. However, the team is taking a cautious approach, as Lilly has previously come back too early before he was pain-free.
Lilly hasn't thrown in three weeks, and Mattingly said it will take some time for the lefty to build back strength.
A.J. Ellis impressing Mattingly with defense
LOS ANGELES -- A lot of the talk surrounding A.J. Ellis' surprising season has been about his bat and what he has been able to do offensively. But on a Dodgers team that has had to mix and match players throughout the field defensively, the catcher has been consistent behind the plate.
Ellis threw out a pair of White Sox baserunners on Saturday and he has now thrown out 20 runners on the basepaths, the second-most in the Majors.
He has thrown out 39 percent of attempted base stealers, which puts him toward the top in the league.
"The good thing about A.J. is he's not looked at as a guy who's got a cannon," manager Don Mattingly said. "A.J. has really just worked over the years on getting rid of it and being accurate."
Mattingly added that the key for Ellis has been not trying to do too much on the throw.
Fellow catcher Matt Treanor said he and Ellis work on footwork often and the throw around the bases once a homestand.
Ellis' success catching runners is also a credit to the pitching staff's improvement in terms of dictating the tempo of the game, Mattingly said.
Ethier hitting well since signing extension
LOS ANGELES -- Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier has turned things around recently after signing a five-year, $85 million extension this week. In the four games since the announcement, he has gone 6-for-14 with two runs, two RBIs and two walks entering Sunday's game.
Prior to this stretch, Ethier had been struggling. He hit 5-for-38 during a 10-game road trip. His grand slam against Seattle one week ago snapped a homerless streak that dated back to May 21.
After hitting .366 in May, Ethier has hit just .196 this month. Before signing his extension, the right fielder's average had steadily dropped from .333 to .287 over the last few weeks. He's got it back to .295 heading into Sunday's game.
Alex Angert is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.