At press time, the Major League Baseball winter meetings had just concluded and highlights included the New York Yankees purchase of Giancarlo Stanton from the Miami Marlins’ fire-sale, the Los Angeles Angels winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, and the signing of Evan Longoria by the SF Giants. In a short few months, America’s pastime will be in full swing again and while Major League executives have been busy improving their teams in the off season, the Canal Baseball Academy, one of Marin County’s local non-profit baseball organizations, has spent the hot stove league also getting ready for the upcoming season.

Founded in 2013 by Kevin Loughlin, a transportation consultant and former baseball star at San Rafael High School, the CBA is a non-profit, co-ed baseball program for underserved boys and girls in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. Kevin has been involved in the Marin baseball community since he was old enough to swing a bat. In addition to playing baseball at San Rafael High School, Kevin has coached at multiple youth levels, from the San Rafael Little League to his alma mater and Terra Linda High School.

The vision behind the CBA arose out of Kevin’s experience at San Quentin State Prison, where, while playing in a men’s baseball game against a team of inmates several years ago, Kevin was so impressed with the experience that when he was asked to coach the San Quentin Giants, he immediately accepted. The caliber of competition was very high and Kevin coached the SQ Giants for several years, playing games against junior colleges and men’s league teams. Many inmates expressed the positive impact youth sports can have on young men and women as they lamented to Kevin that if, “I had stayed with youth sports, I might never have ended up…[in prison].” This positive experience prompted Kevin to seek out other ways he could give back to the local community and inspired him to develop a baseball program in the Canal neighborhood of San Rafael.

The Canal is home to more than one thousand boys and girls between the ages of five and twelve, but the neighborhood had always been underrepresented in San Rafael Little League. Before the CBA was founded, there were no more than four kids from the Canal playing little league at any given time, virtually none of them girls. Many of the kids were from single-parent families where transportation to the games and practice was a challenge.

Kevin partnered with San Rafael Little League and the SF Giants “Junior Giants” Program to break down barriers by offering reduced or free registration to kids to participate in the CBA. The Junior Giants, T&B Sports and Linedrive Baseball donated equipment. He developed a ride-sharing program to get kids to games and practices. For coaches, he recruited local high school players and this past summer, players from Drake, Marin Catholic, Terra Linda, San Rafael and Redwood high schools all participated in the program by coaching the various teams at the CBA, giving them an opportunity to give back to the community. The entire Loughlin family got involved in the program as Kevin’s three sons, Ryan, Sean and Conner, have all coached and his wife, Suzy, a teacher at Drake High School, handles the administrative side of the organization.

A critical component of the program’s success has been the focus not only on the fundamentals, but also on encouraging the boys and girls from the Canal to participate in San Rafael Little League and to build new friendships, both in their community and beyond. The CBA provides meaningful opportunities for the kids to learn valuable life lessons like self-esteem, teamwork and respect. Now with about forty to fifty kids, including approximately ten girls, in the San Rafael Little League program, the program is diverse and thriving.

Moreover, graduates from the CBA have gone on to play high school baseball and softball and one of Kevin’s rewarding experiences is to attend a local high school game and see kids he coached in the Canal a few years ago wearing a high school uniform. This year, Kevin expects to see about ten players from the CBA on San Rafael and Terra Linda’s high school teams. The San Francisco Giants have acknowledged the CBA as one of the most successful programs in the Junior Giants community program, citing it as a model program for underserved youth.

Kevin fondly recounts a recent story illustrating the positive impact of the program. In the minor league championship game this past year, young Kevin Ochoa, a reserved and quiet kid, who two years ago had never been exposed to baseball, hit a two-run double to win the league championship and was carried off the field by his teammates. “The moment sent chills down my spine and is something that young man will never forget.”

Looking forward, the CBA hopes to obtain its own dedicated field. As Kevin noted, “There is no greater feeling than walking out on to a real baseball field for the first time.”