Junior Giants take a swing at life lessons

INFO: Visit the Lincoln Youth Center (391 H Street) to sign up, or contact Steve Krueger at 343-3632 or
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Nutrition and accountability are a big part of the Junior Giants baseball field, next to baseball gloves and bases. The Lincoln Police Activities League (PAL) is ramping up for its 12th season teaching boys and girls ages 6 to 18 the finer points of baseball and life, according to PAL executive director Steve Krueger. “It’s non-competitive, and (the kids) don’t have to feel embarrassed if they don’t have the skills,” Krueger, who also works as the youth services officer at Lincoln High School, said. “It’s about building character, confidence and having healthy competition.” The free baseball program, sponsored by the Giants Community Foundation, runs from June 10 to Aug.13. The Giants Community Foundation provides the gloves, baseball bats, and pitching machines, used each year, as well as gear, like shirts and hats, that the kids can keep. “The goal is to have at least 100 kids participate,” Krueger said. “We really want to get more kids to play.” Players aren’t the only things needed, according to Krueger, since coaches are needed. “If someone doesn’t want to coach, we have had some retired teachers that helped with the reading and nutrition campaign, anti-violence campaign, all components,” Krueger said. Joann Hilton, Redirect board member and Rotary Club president-elect, coached last year. Redirect provides funding for the Lincoln Youth Center, which has ties to PAL. “It’s a good program because kids get another activity they can do, and the San Francisco Giants do a fabulous job of presenting the program, materials and equipment,” Hilton said. “I think they (kids) should sign up because most of these kids are not getting the opportunity to play baseball or have a team sport, and it’s a great thing for them to learn.” Parents are also welcome to help, either providing snacks or roles mentioned above, Krueger said. Practices are to be held Tuesday, with games on Saturdays, and interspersed in each session are programs tailored to education, health and non-violence, Krueger said. There are also prizes to be earned and trading cards to collect, he said. The healthy competition aspect of the program “teaches them to be good sports, and enjoy and learn the game,” according to Krueger. “It teaches them to enjoy the process and get a healthy sense of competition,” Krueger said. The Junior Giants can also be something positive for kids in another way, according to Krueger. “In a difficult or frustrating economy, there’s still something healthy and productive for them to do that won’t cost parents anything,” Krueger said. “It keeps them off the street, from being bored.” Lincoln Police Chief Paul Shelgren started the program in Lincoln, according to Krueger. “This is his baby, he got the program rolling,” he said. Shelgren, who has handed the program to Krueger, said he still “tries to go to as many practices and games to stay active and involved with the kids.” “When you have a bunch of kids playing baseball, it can’t get any better,” Shelgren said. “It’s something positive for them to do, an opportunity to do things they haven’t done, especially when we take them to AT&T Park (for a Giants game).” With police layoffs looming above Lincoln’s future, the Junior Giants have an added benefit, according to Shelgren. “If they are out doing positive, good things, like baseball, they won’t be out associating with people who may lead them to activities to get them and other people in trouble,” Shelgren said. “Trouble like at home with parent not following rules and then everything from theft, graffiti and vandalism.” Efrain Zamora, 16, has played since the age of 12. “I wanted to try out a sport and I thought baseball was fun to do,” Zamora said. “I liked how everyone was playing, with a lot of people helping each other out. The older kids help the younger kids.” Daniel Evitt, 15, has played for two years and will coach this year for a third year. “Coaching was fun, I like helping the kids with pitching and batting,” Daniel said. “It was really fun, a lot of nice people and cool kids who like to play baseball.”