It’s a hot afternoon at the Lucky A’s field in North Richmond, and the dozen or so kids who showed up for baseball practice today are sticking to a strip of shade next to the chain link fence. A couple boys are playing catch. Three others take up as a pitcher, a batter and a catcher. There’s a crack of the bat, and a ball flies into the sun. Kaaliyah Fluker, 11, the only girl on the team, watches, eyes on the sunny field, resting a bat on her shoulders, her black mitt dangling from one hand, her tight curls sticking out from underneath the baseball hat she wears backward.
Practice for the two Little League teams in North Richmond isn’t about drills or scrimmages. There are no uniforms, just a few bats and baseballs. Coach Lemare Williams watches the kids play from the other side of the chain link fence. He doesn’t say much. It’s more about the kids doing what they are here to do: Play ball.
“Baseball is baseball,” Williams said. “As long as the kids are having fun.”
Williams started coaching about five years ago. At first it was just with his son and some other neighborhood friends. But eventually it grew into a Little League team with two age groups. In years past, they’ve played in the Richmond league, but this year, Williams took his kids to San Pablo. As a coach, Williams says he strives to be a “father figure,” and a mentor and teacher to most of these boys.
“A lot of them don’t have fathers for whatever reason,” Williams said. Speaking from personal experience, Williams continued to say that baseball “helps us to be better men, better people.” As someone who grew up in North Richmond, a neighborhood known more for its violence than its sport, Williams says baseball was a silver lining in his life, something to give him hope.
“It gave me the opportunity to see that I could get serious and do what I need to do,” he said.
There are only a few games left in the Little League season. But Contra Costa County has found a way to keep the sport going through the summer with the Junior Giants, a free non-competitive program that aims to give kids something that will build them up and keep them from getting into trouble. The program provides uniforms and equipment, and incorporates elements of learning and self esteem building. While Junior Giants has been involved with the city of Richmond, this is the first time it’s come to the unincorporated North Richmond, said Denise Carey, who works for the Contra Costa County Service Integration Team and applied to the Junior Giants program on behalf of North Richmond.
“It’s not just playing ball, it’s also learning how to have great character and learning violence prevention and integrity and leadership,” Carey said. “It’s definitely a deserving community. It’s a big thing for us to be given the opportunity to be part of the organization.”
The Junior Giants will start on June 6 at its First Pitch Night, where parents and players can meet their coaches. For more information about Junior Giants, visit juniorgiants.org and look for the North Richmond registration link.