On the final day of the Half Moon Bay Junior Giants season, more than 250 kids and parents came for some baseball — and classic baseball food — at Smith Field.
The eight-week summer baseball program ended on Aug. 3 with games and celebration. The food and drinks were provided by the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Activities League and the Half Moon Bay Lions Club. The Junior Giants is a nonprofit affiliate of the Giants Community Fund, which allows for youth across California, Oregon and Nevada to play free summer baseball, earn prizes, and learn through character-building initiatives. According to the Community Fund’s website, it has donated more than $30 million since 1991.
In its second year, the local Junior Giants program was managed by co-commissioners Ashley Hekkert and Phil Hophan, along with local ambassador Olivia Greeley. This year, the Junior Giants included the Pescadero community, and selected teams played one game on the newly renovated Tom Roberts field in Pescadero.
Hekkert said, while there were slightly fewer participants than the program’s first year, the group did a better job retaining kids as the summer wore on.
“The curriculum is getting through to the kids better,” Hekkert said. “I think now that parents have done it once before, they have a better grasp of what the curriculum is and what the program is supposed to be.”
Aside from providing equipment, uniforms and facilities to youth ages 5-14, the program emphasizes the “Four Bases of Character Development” and other character-building goals, with weekly themes encompassing leadership, confidence, teamwork, integrity, as well as health, education and antibullying. Each year, one player and one coach receive the prestigious Willie Mac Award, named after the late former Giant and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
The award is given to those who exemplify the nonprofit’s main character objectives. This year, Caleb Galle and coach Richard Ortiz were named the Half Moon Bay winners, and both were honored at Oracle Park alongside the other award winners on Aug. 11 during the home plate pregame ceremony.
Hekkert emphasized that the Junior Giants program stands out not just because it teaches the fundamentals of baseball in a coed, non-competitive and fun way, but considers the bigger picture of sports as an avenue for learning.
“Not only is it noncompetitive and inclusive to all different types of people, but it’s a good program because it teaches kids how to build character,” Hekkert said. “It teaches them, through the avenue of sports, here’s why you should stay in school. Here’s why you should read books more. Here’s why you need to have a healthy diet in the summer.”