Napa’s Junior Giants summer baseball program gives kids the chance to practice, play ball and even visit Oracle Park in San Francisco — at no cost to parents.
“I like having some of the kids who would never have the opportunity to (play baseball),” said coach Alejandro Hernandez, who’s in his third year of volunteering for Napa’s Junior Giants program.
The program is made possible thanks to the Giants Community Fund, which partners with Napa’s Parks and Recreation Services.
The city reserves the fields and recruits and trains volunteers, while the Giants Community Fund provides equipment, shirts and hats. The Giants Community Fund collects donations so kids who don’t have a glove get to take one home.
Junior Giants is a free, co-ed baseball and softball program for kids ages 5 to 13, according to the program’s online registration form. The season lasts for eight weeks. There’s a T-ball division for 5- and 6-year-old kids, a minor league for 7- to 9-year-old kids and a majors league for 10- to 13-year-old kids, according to the Junior Giants website.
About 24,000 players across 90 leagues in Northern and Central California, Oregon and Nevada participate, according to the Junior Giants.
Napa’s Junior Giants practice on Mondays and compete on Sundays.
Though school is out, Napa’s Junior Giants program keeps kids sharp, too. Participants spend about 15 minutes learning new words each week and submit reading logs that show they read for 720 minutes.
Kids even flexed their STEM skills through a Chevron-sponsored project that allowed them to test whether foam or regular baseballs would go farther when launched from a slingshot. The project helped them learn about angles and mass, said Dan Opperman, recreation coordinator for the city.
It was like “teach(ing) physics to an 8-year-old,” Opperman said.
Coach Hernandez, who has two kids in the Junior Giants program, said he likes that it gives players an incentive to practice schoolwork during the summertime.
But the Junior Giants program isn’t all work. Kids will get a chance to attend a Napa Silverados game for free and visit a festival at Oracle Park, Hernandez said.
Napa’s Junior Giants summer baseball program is about “more than just baseball,” said Opperman. It’s about teaching kids leadership, integrity and teamwork. Last week, kids were taught the importance of having confidence in your teammates, throws, catching and everyday life.
Kids also participated in a “strike out bullying” art project, Opperman said.
“You’re not just out there playing a game,” he said. “You’re learning some life lessons.”
Evelyn Donoho, 10, is a first-time Junior Giant. She said she learned she enjoyed batting and catching thanks to the program.
Catching was also a passion of Emily Shumaker, 10, who is in her second year of participating in the program. She likes competing, having a chance to go to Oracle Park and participating in the STEM slingshot exercise — even though “it was complicated,” she said.
Sebastian Exum Henderson, 10, said he liked the opportunity to learn more about baseball, help out his team and get Giants gear. He said he’s excited about the rollout of new bobbleheads.
But more than anything, Exum Henderson, who is in his third year of Junior Giants, said he looks forward to visiting the field at Oracle Park for the first time.
“You’re on the field where your favorite team is playing,” he said. “It’s really fun.”