Junior Giants offers kids in Oroville a chance to play
The youth baseball league targets at-risk kids
Kaitlyn Wyman has been to several San Francisco Giants baseball games and plays catcher with the enthusiasm of Buster Posey. But don’t let her résumé fool you—this smiling, brown-haired Oroville resident is only 6 years old.
A Sierra Avenue Elementary School first-grader this year, Kaitlyn is a participant in a growing baseball program called Junior Giants, which has been funded by the San Francisco pro-baseball team since 1994 (it’s been in Butte County for three years) as a means to steer at-risk kids away from drugs, gangs and crime and toward community-building activities.
Jennifer Kremen helped Oroville gain a Junior Giants squad after non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma nearly took her life. After numerous treatments, she was eventually cured in 2006.
The former Oroville Little League coach has had a connection with baseball since she was a 5-year-old, even playing competitive softball throughout high school until she was injured in a car accident during her junior year.
Kremen, now 34, was invited by the San Francisco Giants to throw out the first pitch during a game in July 2007 for an event called Strike Out Cancer, which is dedicated to helping people affected by cancer build the team support they need to manage their disease. She brought along 14 Little League players she coached during her bout with cancer.
While at the game, Kremen heard about the Junior Giants program and immediately thought to herself, “We have to bring this to Oroville.”
She quickly made it happen, speaking with Bob Sharkey, then-general manager of the Feather River Recreation and Park District, to get things started. By the next summer, Oroville had received uniforms, bats and gloves for its very first squad.
“We couldn’t have done this without help from everybody,” Kremen said, mentioning all the people who pitched in to prepare the fields and organize the league. “No one person could have done it by themselves.”
The Junior Giants Baseball Program is funded by the Giants Community Fund and provides participants of all income levels and abilities, both boys and girls, with equipment and training during a noncompetitive eight-week, eight-game season. Junior Giants has grown to serve 17,000 children to date in 85 leagues across California, Nevada and Oregon.
In Oroville, this program runs from early July until the end of August and offers kids 5-18 years old an opportunity to enjoy the team aspects of baseball at no cost to their families. There are about five to six teams per age group, with between 10 and 13 kids on each squad, for a total of about 250 kids every season—though there’s no cap on enrollment.
“I want to get as many kids playing as possible,” Kremen said. “I cannot express how much I love this program for the kids in our community. It is so wonderful to be able to provide this program for so many kids who may not otherwise get to play, or get this invaluable information and guidance.”
They play against other teams in their league on the Nelson fields next to Nelson Middle School, and try to have sign-ups completed by June 15 so everything can be ready for the start of the season on July 1. Kremen is still searching for a coach for this year’s squad, but remains optimistic.
In addition to athletic opportunities, the kids learn about nutrition and curbing violence and get to participate in academic contests as well.
Kaitlyn participated in the “Round the Bases” reading program her first two summers on the team, and looks to continue it this season by keeping a log of all the books she reads during the season.
“I’ve read like 40,” Kaitlyn declared proudly, as she recalled all the books she read during last year’s season, when she had just finished kindergarten.
“Yeah, something like that,” confirmed her father, Ted Wyman, a Junior Giants volunteer, who went on to say how great Junior Giants has been for his daughter’s academics as well as her baseball play on the field.
Valued even more than batting averages and fielding fundamentals in the program is the development of four core character traits—confidence, integrity, leadership and teamwork. The kids spend a lot of time focusing on those qualities.
“If we’re doing a week for leadership, we might have a couple of the players be coaches,” said Kremen. “If we’re developing integrity, some of the players might be side umps to determine what’s a fair ball and a foul ball—for their own team and the other team.”
The young sluggers are rewarded with big-time prizes at the end of each season, including tickets to Giants games and even college scholarships.
“A kid’s athletic skills don’t matter here, because there’s a place for everybody,” Kremen said. “It’s a great way to get kids out of their house and onto the fields during the summer, and also improve their education during a time when they’re tempted to slack off.”