- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2018

Wesley Claytor rose both arms into the air when his bat shattered — not the blue one in his hands, but the wooden one before his eyes.

At the MLB All-Star FanFest on Saturday, Claytor, a 9-year-old from Richmond, took part in the Virtual Reality Home Run Derby game. He swung a bat with a sensor on it and had goggles over his eyes, seeing Nationals Park erupt when his final swing sent the ball out of the yard to straightaway center field.

He covered his face when he left the batting cage and gave his mother, April Kloke, a high-five, ecstatic early in his trip to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

Claytor, a little leaguer, hadn’t hit a ball so far in his life — and technically, he still hasn’t. His swing made contact with a virtual ball. But that knowledge didn’t diminish the early highlight of his FanFest experience, an event filled with interactive options for aspiring big leaguers.

“My excitement is like, ‘Oh my gosh, I broke the bat I hit it so hard!’” Claytor said. “But then I’m like, it’s a VR game, and I saw it on all the other [televisions] and it broke the bat. But still, I was excited that I broke the bat, no matter what.”

The VR Home Run Derby was one of a few interactive games Claytor planned to do. After launching a few dingers, Claytor wanted to try the pitching tunnel. FanFest also features a live batting cage, fielding drills and a base-stealing challenge.

Kloke watched outside the batting cage and videotaped her son and the television displaying what Claytor could see. Neither of them had tried VR technology before.

It gave Claytor and other fans a chance to imagine what MLB All-Stars Bryce Harper, Jesus Aguilar and Freddie Freeman will attempt to do Monday night at Nationals Park.

“Bless his little sweet heart, like, he can hit on the VR, he can hit in the batting cage, but in the game, I don’t know what happens,” Kloke said. “So to see him over there hitting home runs like that is exciting.”

The players with the top 32 scores from Friday to Sunday will be invited to compete in the Home Run Derby VR Championship on Monday, which will be streamed live on sites like YouTube and Twitch. The winner will be awarded a package including a custom trophy and four tickets to Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Nationals Park.

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