SF State to host Junior Giants

San Francisco is poised to offer the first-ever urban youth baseball academy on a college campus in the United States.

Beginning possibly as early as next summer, youngsters with a passion for baseball — many of whom might not otherwise have a chance to play —will learn the sport at the yet-to-be-built Junior Giants Urban Youth Academy at San Francisco State University due to a recently announced joint effort between the college, Giants Community Fund and Major League Baseball.

Though plans for the academy have been in the works since last year, the project was made public by President Barack Obama on June 4 when he honored the Giants at the White House for their extraordinary third World Series win in five years.

“Today, I’m proud to announce that the Giants Community Fund is teaming up with San Francisco State University and Major League Baseball to build a multimillion-dollar Junior Giants Urban Youth Academy, complete with training facilities, classrooms, batting cages, two baseball fields,” the president said.

“The Academy will target boys and girls from underserved areas of San Francisco and will include mentoring and tutoring, and college prep programming,” Obama continued.

He added that the project aligns with the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a nationwide effort announced last year to ensure all youths have access to support services.

The youth academy is slated for the northwest quadrant of SFSU, adjacent to the baseball field. The plan is to relocate the school’s tennis courts and build youth baseball fields in their place, SFSU President Leslie Wong told the San Francisco Examiner.

Youngsters will also likely be able to use the college baseball field, plus the softball field, allowing for a total of four available fields for underserved youths learning to play baseball. A small building with offices and batting cages are also planned for the site.

“We really want to bring young people on to campus,” Wong said. “We’re finding out that one of the best predictors of going to college is being familiar with a college campus.”

Encouraging children to play sports and pursue education are the primary goals of the Junior Giants Program, established in 1994 to offer free, noncompetitive baseball programs for youths from communities that might not offer the same opportunities.

More than 22,000 boys and girls, ages 5-18, play Junior Giants baseball today in 91 leagues throughout California, Nevada and Oregon. The academy at SFSU will provide the program with a dedicated facility, the first of its kind in San Francisco and one of a handful of urban youth academies throughout the U.S.

“This partnership with S.F. State is really the next extension of some of the work that we’re already doing in the community: to have kids on a college campus and using baseball as a hook to provide potential avenues to college,” said Staci Slaughter, executive vice president of communications for the Giants.

But the SFSU academic community stands to benefit from the project as well, Wong noted.

Long challenged with finding internship sites for a number of undergraduate and graduate programs at SFSU, teaming up college students with junior Giants players stands to provide unique academic opportunities.

SFSU is also exploring adding sports management and sports marketing programs.

“We think with the presence of this team right here on campus that it’s just the perfect opportunity to bring new programming,” Wong said.

The academy is estimated to cost up to $8 million to build, which will be split among the involved organizations, including SFSU and the Giants Community Fund. It could open as early as next summer.

Laura Dudnick

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