Four years after gracing our cover as an eighth-grade slugger, Vincent Byrd II is still swinging away
Vincent Byrd II counts his blessings like he counts on the advice of four former professional baseball players.
The 6-foot-7-inch graduate of Sacramento’s El Camino High sounds sincerely thankful when asked about the advice he’s continually received from coaches like Jalal Leach, who spent a decade in the minors, eight games with the San Francisco Giants and is now a scout for the New York Yankees.
“It’s really a blessing, actually, because there are a lot of kids that don’t have that guidance,” said Byrd, branching off from the original question to mention how lucky he’s been to interact with four fellow African-American baseball fanatics.
All four were connected to Byrd by different organizations that promote Black youth participation within the game.
“Jalal first told me when I was younger, of all coaches, no one has the full key to success on how to hit. Everybody preaches a different thing. You’ve got to find a way to put it all together that works for you.”
With that, Byrd listed the help he’s had from former National League Manager of the Year Jerry Manuel, along with erstwhile minor leaguers Anthony Manuel, J.J. Sherrill and Leach.
“Jerry teaches throwing the barrel (of the bat). Jalal teaches, let the ball get deep and hit up the middle. Coach Ant teaches separation. J.J. teaches hitting the ball to all fields.”
Plus there are Jalal’s brother Jarman Leach and Roney Johnson, both former pros also involved in such organizations.
“So I put that all together,” Byrd added. “It took some time. It took years.”
There are years to go before he sleeps easy, since he’s still a few steps from what he calls his “ultimate goal” — to play in the majors.
For now, the 6-foot-7-inch first baseman has begun his collegiate career with Long Beach City College, where he plans to major in business management. Instead of committing to a four-year program, Byrd decided to stick with his family — which moved from Sacramento to Long Beach because his father and stepmom got jobs down south — and continue honing his skills in high school baseball. In due time, he hopes to be drafted, and then climb up the minor league food chain.
Until then, he’s made LBCC coach Chris Crook a bit giddy.
“He just fell into my lap,” Crook said, laughing as he added that Byrd called him up two month ago asking to join the team. “Sometimes that happens. It’s usually not a guy that seems to have the potential that Vincent has, so that makes it extra special.” Particularly because LBCC is coming off consecutive conference championships and Crook said the school hasn’t gone back-to-back-to-back since the 1970s.
“We’ve got a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in probably about 40 years, and adding Vince to the roster” — at which point the coach chuckled — “makes that look pretty good.”
The way Byrd is built makes him look a lot like a basketball player. Byrd took off for SoCal the weekend after graduation in June. It didn’t take long for him to stand out on campus.
“I was walking across campus and the basketball coach came up to me and said, ‘Hey how’d you get that guy?” Crooks said. “He’d already seen him on campus and approached him about being a basketball player. so I’ve got to tell the basketball coach to keep his hands off.”
Byrd did play hoops in high school, first as a freshman at Sacramento and then as a sophomore at El Camino. He skipped his junior year to focus on baseball but returned to hardwood as a senior. “It made my footwork at first base way quicker,” he said. “I play deeper in the hole now so I can get to balls faster.”
Meanwhile, Byrd remained successful in baseball after switching schools. As a sophomore he hit .428 with 26 RBI and three homers in the 23 games logged on MaxPreps. As a junior he swatted eight home runs — including two in one game against Pioneer-Woodland and a grand slam in his next game — while upping his batting average to .449, knocking in 34 runs and hitting eight homers in 26 games.
The slugger’s statistics slipped slightly in his senior year (.328 BA, 22 RBI and five homers in 26 games), though his team’s success didn’t. After going 13-13 and 10-17 the two previous springs, El Camino finished 14-10 and made the Sac-Joaquin Section postseason. That was music to Byrd’s ears.
“I just wanted to make playoffs,” he said.
In the Eagles’ Division III opener, an outbracket game played at home, Byrd contributed an RBI double to El Camino’s 5-0 win over River City-West Sacramento.
Byrd’s fondest memory from that win was pitcher Jacob Wrath, one of his best friends, shutting out River City in five innings of work — with a fractured pelvic bone. Wrath didn’t learn the extent of the injury until after El Camino exited the postseason with a 12-2 loss to Sierra-Manteca. Regardless, Byrd loved Wrath’s dedication in overcoming a challenge, even an unknown one.
That’s because challenges drive Byrd. For example, he chose LBCC because the wind swirls in from left field. But at least there’s a fence in left. That’s not the case where he launched his favorite swing of high school.
As a freshman, his Sacramento squad faced Grant-Sacramento, then the home of a player recently drafted in the NFL. “I hit a ball over Shaq Thompson’s head in right field. He tracked it down and almost threw me out at second base,” Byrd said. “He’s really fast. Sac High has no fences either — so he really got after it.”
Byrd isn’t as speedy as Thompson, but his bulky frame and passion might one day bring him into the professional sports ranks. “I’ve dreamed of it my whole life,” Byrd said.
Thanks largely to four former pros and Byrd’s own hard work, he’s closer each day to that ultimate goal.
By DANIEL HERBERHOLZ | Contributor