Friday, July 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Summerlin’s John Howard Bobo spent the past few days online voting for Las Vegas’ Bryce Harper to be in this year’s Major League Baseball all-star game.
John Howard, a 10-year-old youth baseball standout, will be part of the festivities at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City while competing in the Aquafina Major League Baseball Pitch, Hit & Run National Finals and desperately wanted to meet his idol.
But Harper wasn’t selected in the fan vote for the last spot on the National League roster, which was won Thursday by David Freese of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Like Harper, the Washington Nationals' 19-year-old rookie and local legend, John Howard wears eye black partially down his face when he plays. And, like the star he models his game after, John Howard also appears to be talented.
“I try to have fun and play hard. That’s how (Harper) plays,” John Howard said.
John Howard is one of 24 boys and girls to advance to the nationals, besting a field of 658,000 children and winning three qualifying stages to advance to Kansas City. The most recent phase was at the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park.
Following the competition Monday, the finalists will stay on the field to gather balls in the outfield during the home run derby. They also receive entry to the all-star fan-fest and tickets to Tuesday’s game, and they will surely have access to the big-league players.
While Harper probably won’t be around — he could still be selected as a replacement if someone gets hurt this weekend — John Howard is looking forward to meeting other players, especially from his favorite team, the New York Yankees.
It’s been a journey of a lifetime, which is something the Givens Elementary School incoming fifth-grader doesn’t need to be reminded of. He learned of qualifying for the finals during a telecast on the MLB Network where all the children had their names announced.
“I always wondered how they were picked to (catch balls during the home run derby),” he said. “That’s going to be the best part.”
The competition starts with each ballplayer pitching six times from 45 feet away, accumulating points for where their pitch lands on a strike-zone target. Next, they take six swings at a ball on a stationary tee and are scored on distance and accuracy. The final challenge is being timed on running from second base to home (John Howard has been clocked at 7.7 seconds).
John Howard hasn’t trained specifically for the competition, partially because he has a practice or game nearly each day.
He plays mostly catcher — just like Harper did when shining at Las Vegas High and the College of Southern Nevada — for his Summerlin North Little League and the Las Vegas Venom teams. He batted .623 in 106 at-bats this past spring, and in one tournament, he threw out 11 runners attempting to steal a base to help the Venom win 22 straight tournament games.
“If you hustle on the field, you can make a lot of good things happen,” he said.
His parents, three grandparents and sister will also travel to the game.
“He never expected to win. He just wants to play,” said Christi Bobo, his mother.