Team Parent, Courtney Denny, passed out free baseball gloves and jerseys on Monday, June 18, to the seven to nine-year-olds that made up her son’s Junior Giants youth baseball team at their practice in Sunrise Park.
Denny, who is eight-months pregnant, smiled as the boys and girls snatched the gloves and shirts out of her hand. The kids ran off giggling and joined their teammates on the baseball diamond who clustered around their coach at home plate.
“Equipment is where people struggle,” Denny said, easing herself back onto the bench. “Here they provide you with the jersey, the hat, or the glove if you need it. It starts to add up, especially with mixed families or single parents.”
That kind of generosity on the part of the Giants Community Fund is vital for the success of their youth program. 68 percent of participants in the Junior Giants baseball league qualify for free or reduced lunch during the school year and so free equipment makes participation possible for people like Leeann Mack, mother of Junior Giant, Sienna Mack-Clark, who otherwise might not be able to play.
“I’m a single mom with a limited income,” Mack said. “We’re big baseball fans. We would watch the Giants on the TV, but [Sienna] has never played baseball before and we wanted to check it out. It’s been the best thing in the world for her. She really wanted to get involved in something and she loves the interactions with the other kids.”
While baseball certainly takes center stage, it’s not the only focus for the Junior Giants program. It also doubles as a reading incentive and teaches the kids essential life skills like healthy eating, teamwork and bullying prevention. That last facet is something that Mack’s daughter, Sienna, suffered recently at school.
“It gets me emotional to be honest,” Mack said, wiping tears from her eyes. “But she worked through it. We help people. We lift them up.”
But for many the Junior Giants program simply provides an easy way for parents and youths to try out baseball without the pressure of competition.
Courtney Denny looked out at the diamond and watched the team run laps. “All the kids are at different levels. There are some that have played Cal-Ripken and there are some that have never picked up a ball. It’s about figuring out what level the kids are at. Really, what they focus on is having fun.”
Fun is certainly what the program provides. It incentivizes its members to excel with added bonuses and prizes, culminating with a trip at the end of the season to the San Francisco Giants stadium, AT&T Park.
“They think of themselves as mini-Giants and they get really excited. It’s fun to see,” Katie Stensrud, the Rohnert Park Junior Giants Ambassador, said. “They can get out there and try what they want without being judged.”
According to Stensrud, over 200 participants have already joined this year’s program, exceeding the Giants Community Fund’s expectations. The leagues will run for another eight weeks and end just before school starts on August 3.