In the summer of 2015, I became part of the Junior Giants family. After the experience, I am convinced that programs such as this are vital to the development of the youth of our communities.
Growing up in the bay area, I was always looking for friends to go to the school or park with. We would meet up after school or on the weekends, and play strikeout or home run derby. Hitting tennis balls out of a little league field as a middle-schooler brought on feelings of Will Clark connecting on an upper-deck shot.
But kids these days are not given the same opportunities. No matter what city you live in, it is nearly impossible to find an open field to play on that isn’t locked up. It’s understandable to the point that they do not want any vandalism. But to take away a space for a child to play on and live in the shoes of the people they see on t.v. is a little sad.
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That isn’t to say that the technology that has been invented over the last few years hasn’t aided in drawing attention from going outside and playing. But the fact that there aren’t many cheap, easily accessible ways to play baseball for the youth is not good for the future of the sport.
There are obviously travel ball teams out there and they serve a purpose. The exposure on the road is great. And there are some high quality ballplayers out there.
But what about introducing the game to youngsters who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity? Youth sports is not cheap, and sometimes the price and commitment is too high for a family to make. That is where programs such as the Junior Giants comes in.
The program is set up so that children of any skill level can play. It is a non-competitive environment, that still follows the basic rules. But parents have to be engaged to get the most out of it.
This is not to say that the parents need to help out on the field, but at least show the excitement when your child hits the ball past the pitcher for the first time. Or stops the ball with their foot and then rolls the ball to first, just getting the runner by a hair.
My group had some excited children, who were engaged the whole summer. We had one practice per week and one game on a different day. The program focuses on confidence, teamwork, leadership, and integrity. There was an anti-bullying message, a focus on good nutrition, and a reading challenge.
The boys and girls on my team learned a lot in a short amount of time, and by the end of the summer, were all playing as a team.
And that is where programs like this are at there best. When they can provide a safe place to promote the kids to socialize and work as a team to get better. Encourage one another to succeed.
There were special awards given to the children as they achieved each level of success. All the Giants gear was top-notch, and really motivated the children to continue to excel.
The festival was held at AT&T Park. All the leagues showed up from all over California. The kids were allowed to see the locker rooms and go out on the field. At one point, the kids got to hit off a tee at home plate, and run around the bases. All of the kids were thrilled.
Even after we left the park, I took them around to see all of the monuments and statues. They were amazed at the history of the franchise. Then we went over to the little league field on the other side of McCovey Cove. We started to take a few grounders when another team walked up and asked if we wanted to have a little game.
It was as if I was at home as a middle-schooler again, as I watched my team play a pick up baseball game. But not at a neighboring school or park, but on a diamond next to water, on the opposite side of the most beautiful ballpark in baseball.
Thank you to the San Francisco Giants, and the Junior Giants program, not only for helping introduce the game to a new crop of kids, but for giving me an opportunity to learn from the kids. Thanks to Buster Posey (Junior Giants Commissioner), Sergio Romo, and Madison Bumgarner for being such an important part of the program. And former Giant Erik Johnson and Joe Millette for the coaching clinic.