As the school year draws to a close, a parents’ first frantic thoughts are often centered around how to keep their kids occupied during the summer. A variety of camps and classes exist for this very purpose, among them the Junior Giants, a free, non-competitive and coed baseball program for youth ages 5-18.
Junior Giants was established in 1994 by the Giants Community Fund, the nonprofit arm of the San Francisco Giants. Their goal was to use baseball as a forum to encourage underserved youth and their families to live healthy, productive lives – to give at-risk kids an alternative to drugs, gangs, and crime.
The Giants Community Fund provides all of the uniforms, equipment, and training necessary to run a league, as well as prizes and tickets to select Giants games so youth can experience Major League Baseball. The programs are run primarily by parent volunteers, with one or two paid staff, who must follow a set guidelines and goals established by the nonprofit.
Junior Giants offers youth a chance to learn the basics of baseball during the summer while also discovering the importance of essential life skills. In 8 weeks, players learn the Junior Giants Four Bases of Character Development: Confidence, Integrity, Leadership and Teamwork, as well as the importance of health, education and bullying prevention.
Tim Watson oversees the Newark program, along with his co-commissioner Bryan Cobb. A father of two grown sons, Watson has been coaching and volunteering for youth sports programs for over 20 years. “Funny to say but I don’t watch a lot of sports on TV. I’m not a big fanatic. It’s all about the kids for me. If the kids have fun and come back the next year, then you’ve down your job. That’s a success in my book.”
The Newark Junior Giants will enroll about 180 kids this year, with one parent volunteer for every four kids. They divide them into three divisions based on age: ages 5-6 (T-Ball), ages 7-9 (Minors), and ages 10+ (Majors). Practice and games are held at Birch Grove Park, Thursday – Saturday.
Dr. Emily Young is the lead administrator for the City of Hayward’s Youth and Family Services Bureau (YFSB), which has been running a Junior Giants program for 18 years. She became their commissioner 7 years ago. Says Young, “We focus on the teamwork, and try to encourage the kids to be kind to each other, and to respect each other.”
In Junior Giants games there are no outs. Instead, the games are timed, and everyone gets a chance to bat. For most, this is their first introduction to the game. Says Young, “This might not be the right program for those super competitive kids who have played baseball for several years. We try to get them to use their skills to help their team, to help teach others, but sometimes they can get frustrated.”
The Hayward Junior Giants is one of the biggest programs, with over 600 kids signed up every summer. They handle this number by employing 12 police officers and counselors from the YFSB who are involved in school-based programs during the year. Other city employees also help out, as well as some high school and parent volunteers. Says Young, “It draws in a lot of people.”
They have also partnered with Let’s Do Lunch Hayward to provide free breakfasts and lunches. Says Young, “A lot of kids in Hayward qualify for free and reduced lunch during the school year. When schools are closed, they suddenly don’t have access to these meals. During the summer, we’re able to connect the kids with the food again.”
Speaking of food, at the end of the season they host a Closing Day Potluck & BBQ where all of the participants and their families are invited. Says Young, “I’m always so touched by the outpouring of contributions from the community. It’s their way of showing appreciation for the program, and there’s always a bounty of food. It’s a big party. It’s probably my favorite day of the year.” Watson and the Newark Junior Giants also host a Community Potluck.
Each year, the Giants Community Fund inducts 10 new Junior Giants into the Harmon & Sue Burns Scholarship Program. All Junior Giants entering eighth grade are invited to apply for a $5,000 scholarship. The Harmon & Sue Burns Scholars are honored at a home-plate ceremony at AT&T Park on Education Day.
Junior Giants serves over 25,000 participants annually in 90 leagues spread across California, with a few just across the border in Oregon and Nevada as well. In the East Bay, in addition to Newark and Hayward, there are also leagues in Milpitas, Oakland, and Berkeley.
Says Young, “The Junior Giants really has such a positive impact on the community. For me, as a city employee, that’s what it’s all about. To create an environment where people want to live and play.” Proof once again that if you build it, they will come.
For More Information:
Giants Community Fund website: https://www.mlb.com/giants/community/fund/
City of Hayward Junior Giants
All games and practices take place at Larry Standley Field at Weekes Park, located at 27182 Patrick Avenue, Hayward.
City of Newark Junior Giants