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Woodland Hills slugger to compete in home run derby benefit

- Woodland Hills freshman Jake Jessell was picked to be a member of a national team at the Arizona Sophomore/Freshman Fall Classic tournament in October. Submitted photo
Woodland Hills freshman Jake Jessell was picked to be a member of a national team at the Arizona Sophomore/Freshman Fall Classic tournament in October. Submitted photo
Submitted - Woodland Hills' Jake Jessell
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Submitted</em></div>Woodland Hills' Jake Jessell

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Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Over the next few days, Jake Jessell will be swinging for the fences.

Jessell, a sophomore at Woodland Hills, was selected to participate in the eighth annual Power Showcase home run derby Jan. 2-5 at Marlin Park in Miami, Fla., after being recommended by Dan Ninemire, the director of the All-American Baseball Center where Jessell has played since he was 8. He was chosen as a U.S.A. Underclassmen participant.

Hundreds of MLB draft prospects from around the world have participated in the event in past years, most notably Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper in 2009.

“I was excited because I saw kids who are in the pros now did it, and I thought it would be something fun to do that people in the pros did just a couple of years ago,” Jessell said. “I feel honored because I'm the only (underclassman) from Pa. that's at the event.”

Each participant must partner with a local baseball fan through their local children's hospital and do fundraising before the event.

Jessell is partnered with Luccia Harpalani and the Down Syndrome Association of Pittsburgh. Harpalani, who has Down syndrome, is the 9-year-old sister of Maxx Harpalani, Jessell's teammate at the All-American Baseball Center for the past few years.

“Jake gave us a call and asked if that would be something we were OK with,” said Jennifer Harpalani, Luccia's mother. “He really wanted to partner with Luccia. It's a big deal for him and it's a privilege to be asked, and we felt pretty lucky that he asked Luccia to partner with him.”

The Jessell and Harpalani families have become close during their time with the All-American Baseball Center, and partnering with Luccia made perfect sense.

“That was basically a no brainer for us,” said Kasey Jessell, Jake's mother. “My daughter who's 10, every time we're down at All-American and Luccia is there, she's at her hip. We always see them.”

Although proceeds from the event will not go directly to Luccia, the Harpalani family was happy to help the Down Syndrome Association.

“Because Luccia has Down syndrome, and we had to use their services early on,” Jennifer Harpalani said. “We thought that would be a good way to give back.”

Jessell also was selected to play catcher and pitch one inning for Team USA in the Underclassmen All-World Classic Sunday afternoon, a game between the top 20 underclassmen born in the U.S. and the top 20 international players.

Although the Power Showcase starts Thursday, the home run derby takes place Friday, with the top three sluggers from each division advancing to the finals on Sunday. Participants are allowed to use a metal bat for 15 outs and must use a wood bat for five.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at

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