Jr. Giants a hit for Modesto-area youth

All of the 280 Junior Giants who play in Modesto know exactly how to hit a home run.

By reading.

That's right. Reading. And not just about fastballs, hanging curves or even baseball history — though that would count, too. Any sort of reading will do. The Junior Giants just have to do a lot of it (720 minutes, or 12 hours) if they want to reach the "Home Run Level." If their entire team reaches that level, they all earn a trip to AT&T Park to play against others teams on Home Run Readers Day, Aug. 15.

It's all part of a program sponsored by the San Francisco Giants, city of Modesto Parks and Neighborhoods Department and Bank of America. Not only do Junior Giants read, they also play — from eight to 16 games in an eight-week, non-competitive league supervised by parents who have been trained at AT&T Park by ex-Giants players.

The program stresses leadership, teamwork, confidence and integrity. And, of course, baseball. Along the way, kids find out about nutrition, exercise, hygiene and being safe. Oh, and there are the prizes. For all that reading, kids get school supplies. And each year, 10 Junior Giants who are starting eighth grade receive a Harmon and Sue Burns Scholarship worth $2,500, presented upon graduation from high school.

The program is a big hit. Across Northern California and Nevada, there are 15,000 participants. Modesto's is one of the larger groups, with 280 players and about 30 adult volunteers. On Junior Giant Night earlier this week, 600 adults and players from Modesto attended a game courtesy of the Giants. Tracy, Atwater and Stockton also have programs.