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Chris Coffey, left, and his stepson Joshua Russell, 8, both from Antioch, pose together at Antioch City Park in Antioch, Calif., on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. Chris Coffey has been coaching Junior Giants for the past three years, and is the current winner of the Willie Mac Award. The award is given to the local coaches of the program who have proven to be the best of the best. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

ANTIOCH -- Helping young people thrive and build strong characters is one of the key elements of the Junior Giant Baseball program. To help develop those characters, it takes strong leaders who are dedicated to their teams. This year Antioch resident Chris Coffey was honored for his dedication and awarded the program's Willie Mac Award.

When Coffey started volunteering with the program three years ago his only drive was to spend more time with his young stepson, Joshua Russell. It didn't hurt that Coffey had a lifelong appreciation for baseball, giving him an edge when teaching the members of his team.

As a Southern California boy, Coffey grew up as a Dodgers fan and playing high school baseball.

"When I moved to the Bay Area, I wished I could play on an adult league, but my work schedule wouldn't allow it," he said.

When his stepson decided he wanted to play, Coffey jumped in with feet first and has not regretted his decision ever since.

"There are a lot of great kids in the program who have really thrived being involved," Coffey said.

Coffey said that every year there are standout players on the team, but every once in a while he sees that one team member who makes being a coach one of the best decisions he has made. An example was a young girl who was in the foster program who loved playing baseball with the Junior Giants. During the middle of the eight-week season, the girl had to change foster homes, but she was dedicated to playing and didn't want to miss out, so she worked with her social worker to continue to play until the end of the season.

"I was in foster care, so I know what that took for her to continue to play on the team," Coffey said.

He has also watch children who had no idea what the sport was or how to play, grow to love the game.

The Willie Mac awards were presented late last month at Coaches Recognition Day at AT&T Park.

"When I told Joshua that I was able to go out onto the field (to get the award), he was so excited for me saying, 'that's cool'," Coffey said.

Next month Coffey will be attending a special lunch with award's namesake Willie McCovey, nicknamed Willie Mac, who played 19 seasons with the Giants during his baseball career between 1959 and 1980.

Coffey said that the Junior Giants has become a big part of his family life. His wife took on the role as team parent and is considering becoming a team coach next year. He highly recommends parents getting their children involved in the program. He said that the program is always looking for the support of new coaches.

"There are always more kids signing up for the program than coaches available," he said stressing that the benefits are worth the time.

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