It had all the makings of a big-time ballgame: a sparkling field, the smell of hot dogs and even an actual major-leaguer.
San Francisco Giants pitcher Jeremy Affeldt visited Modesto on Friday morning to dedicate the Junior Giants Field named for him in Enslen Park.
An enthusiastic crowd of Junior Giants players, coaches and parents greeted the left-hander, who was accompanied by Giants CEO Larry Baer, play-by-play announcer Dave Flemming and former president and managing general partner Peter Magowan, whose Fields for Kids program sponsored the effort to refurbish the field.
Affeldt spoke to the children in attendance about the lessons that can be learned on a baseball field, including perseverance and fairness.
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“It’s been a rough week for me,” said the Giants reliever, who gave up the eventual game-winning run in Thursday night’s game against the Miami Marlins. “I’ve been pouting.”
But, he said, in talking with his wife on their way to Modesto on Friday — they brought two of their three boys but left the youngest at home because he tends to get carsick — he realized, “You still have to keep going.”
He spoke of wanting to quit when things weren’t going well in Kansas City, where he played for the Royals. Of course, he didn’t, and he went on to win two titles with the Giants.
“If I would’ve quit then, I wouldn’t have experienced what it was like to be a champion,” he said.
He said he takes part in the Junior Giants program to bring baseball and those lessons to children.
Affeldt, whose father was in a bombardier in the Air Force, spent his middle school years in Merced, according to an article on mlb.com. He went to a few Giants games at Candlestick, but more often went to see the Oakland A’s and told his dad he would play there one day, a dream he realized years later with the Kansas City Royals.
Affeldt encouraged children at Friday’s ceremony to follow their dreams.
The Enslen Park facility features new vinyl-coated fencing for the backstops and dugouts, a new irrigation system, fresh infield and outfield sod, improved drainage, a new field for T-ball players, all new concrete dugouts and seating areas, a concrete seat wall and a drinking fountain.
The flagship program of the Giants Community Fund, Junior Giants uses baseball as a forum to teach life skills to underserved youth throughout Northern and Central California, Nevada and Oregon.
Affeldt said he hopes the children will take care of the park, and each other.
“I can’t promise that you’ll all become athletes,” he said, “But you are all destined for something great.”
Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter, @pattyguerra.
Junior Giants is a free, eight-week, noncompetitive, coed baseball program for underserved youth entering kindergarten through eighth grade. It offers youth a chance to learn the basics of baseball during the summer while also discovering the importance of self-esteem and respect.
Entering its 20th season, Junior Giants annually serves more than 20,000 participants in 85 leagues. Junior Giants is more than just baseball; it includes reading and nutrition components and teaches players the “four bases of character development”: confidence, integrity, leadership and teamwork.
Of all leagues in the Junior Giants program, Modesto’s is the largest. According to the Modesto Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Department website, registration for the local program closes in five days. To register, go to comprnd.sportssignup.com. For assistance with registration, call Heather Grigsby at (209) 577-5445.