The San Francisco Junior Giants Program is the flagship program of the SF Giants Community Fund and serves over 20,000 youths, including more than six thousand girls, aged 5-18 across California, Nevada, and Oregon. Founded in 1994 as an alternative to life on the streets, the Junior Giants program has expanded beyond leaps and bounds over the past 18 years. As a result of this banner program, 13,000 of those 20k kids would not have had the opportunity to play organized baseball were it not for the Fund and the Junior Giants.
The Junior Giants stress The Four Bases of Character Development: Confidence, Integrity, Leadership, and Teamwork. Also of paramount importance are Education, Health, and Violence Prevention. To this end, this year’s theme is “Strike Out Violence.” In order to further these ends, the organization asks that each and every player sign a “peace pledge” that states that they will strive to keep their communities free of violence, most especially through bullying.
This year, the program is holding a contest for the Anti-Bullying message called “Imagine Peace.” Each child is asked to create a piece of art that depicts a violence free community and keeps to the year’s theme. Entrants are submitted to the organization and winners are picked to be honored on September 9th at AT&T Park. Each year, 30% of kids K-12 are involved in bullying, either as the one being bullied or being the instigator. The Imagine Peace contest and the Peace Pledge aim to try and reduce that statistic through sportsmanship, togetherness, and team-building.
In addition to their general mission of providing safe, free, non-competitive baseball leagues to all children, the Junior Giants, through several partnerships, also participate in a number of additional initiatives that seek to better their community by realizing that our children truly are the next generation. Part of that is the “Round the Bases” reading program, through a partnership with AAA.
The Round the Bases program stresses the importance of literacy from an early age and rewards those children and parents that strive to make themselves better through reading. Each level has a different “base” assigned to it. Each team that has each player complete the program at the Home Run level will be honored on the field at AT&T Park on August 5th for the Junior Giants Festival, providing a huge incentive for both kids and parents to take a proactive role in their child’s learning.
The organization also sponsors the Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship Fund. 10 new students are inducted each year as they enter their 8th grade year. The program assists the players in high school as well as provides them with a $2500 scholarship to use towards higher education. Each of the winners will be honored on the field at AT&T Park on August 11th. Scholars are chosen not only on their academic abilities, but on the basis of leadership, character, academic potential, and Junior Giants involvement.
The Junior Giants Program is already seeing results of their tireless efforts. An ongoing study, conducted via surveys and interviews with players and parents, by Cal Poly shows that nearly 80% of parents witnessed a positive change in their children’s reading ability. 96% saw a positive change in their child’s confidence and 80% said that they observed a positive change in their eating habits. All in all, 97% of those surveyed said that they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with the Junior Giants program. Cal Poly started the survey with a test group of 10 leagues in 2011, and will be expanding to 25 with this upcoming season. It will be interesting to see if the trend holds across a wider subset of the organization. My best guess is that it will.
The four bases of character development drive the program. Confidence is paramount. With confidence, one can do anything they put their mind to. There is probably no better example of this than the special guest speaker Dave Dravecky.
For those that do not know, Dravecky was diagnosed with cancer in his pitching arm just before the 1988 season. Doctors were not optimistic about his career after the surgery. Yet Dravecky possessed an enormous amount of confidence in his ability to rehab and get back on the mound. He told the crowd this, and afterward, all the seats were empty and their was not a single dry eye in the crowd.
“10 months later, I was standing on the mound after I was told that, outside of a miracle, I would never pitch again. 93 pitches, seven shutout innings and a win later, I proved them all wrong.”
He then went into his motivation to get back to the game.
“I’ve got to try. This is my love, this is my passion. In many respects, this is how my life was defined.”
This is the type of confidence that the Junior Giants seek to instill. Even major leaguers know that every road to success will have bumps along the way. Affeldt probably said it best. “All successful athletes have done it through failure. If you don’t fail, you cannot learn to succeed.”
I will be following the organization through their season schedule and will be keeping in touch with those that I met on Saturday. The group as a whole is amazing to be around, as they truly care about their communities. These commissioners and coaches are not in this to get accolades. Score isn’t even kept at these games. They are not out for money. This is a free league. They are there to help guide and coach young people to the best of their ability. By the looks of things, they are doing a fantastic job.
“You have to be a man to be a big league ballplayer…but you have to have a lot of little boy in you too.” – Roy Campanella