by Jack Williams
With All-America third baseman Mark Teixeira nursing a broken ankle, they’re playing a baseball version of musical chairs in the Georgia Tech infield. Guess who just wound up as the red-hot player in the hot corner?
That’s none other than Victor Menocal, the veteran shortstop now using his rifle arm to throw out batters from a brand new position. When Tech Coach Danny Hall asked Menocal to move to third in a big shakeup, Victor immediately went to Teixeira, the 2000 Collegiate Player of the Year, for some dugout tips.
“Mark told me how to position myself at third to play the various batters,” Menocal said. “He also gave me some other tips. Mainly, he just told me to go out there and have fun.”
Menocal certainly has been doing that. Last week, he led the third-ranked Yellow Jackets to a perfect 4-0 record, batted .500 for the week with six runs scored and three doubles, and played flawless defense after moving to third for the first time in his college career.
He also played errorless ball again Wednesday night when the Jackets did not have much fun in a disappointing 16-9 loss to arch-rival Georgia. Tech now is 1-1 against the Bulldogs this season with two more games upcoming between the teams.
Monacal has been a leader throughout this Tech season and is the second leading hitter on the team with an average of .391. He’s first on the team in hits with 43.
The new third baseman and his Tech teammates (17-6, 1-2) hope to have some more fun this weekend when they host Atlantic Coast Conference rival Maryland (5-13, 0-3) in three games at Russ Chandler Stadium. The teams square off Friday night at 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.
Coach Hall has tried a number of combinations to fill the void until Teixeira returns to the lineup, probably early in May. Last week, Hall moved Menocal from short to third, and All-America second baseman Richard Lewis to shortstop. Matthew Boggs, the fiery leadoff man who has primarily played in the outfield after starting at second base in 1998 and 1999, is back at his old position.
“These moves were made primarily to get the bats of young outfielders Jon Henry Kail and Matt Murton in the lineup,” Hall said. “What made the moves so favorable was the reaction of the players. They realized the moves were for the good of the team. And let me say, we are a better team with this lineup.”
Earlier, Hall began the game of musical chairs when Teixeira was injured by using three different players at third, transfer Brian Jackson, veteran outfielder/catcher Jason Basil and first baseman Jason Perry.
Menocal, a junior from Gainesville, Ga., has been a full-time shortstop ever since he first suited up for T-Ball action when he was six years old. “The only time I ever played third was for two weeks last year for the Great Lakes team in the Northern Ohio Summer League,” he said. “That’s a wooden bat league so the ball comes at you much faster when you are playing third base. It was a good experience.”
Menocal says the present experience at third may prove very beneficial. “In the past, pro scouts have asked me how I would feel about playing third,” he said. “It may be a good thing to show them I can play this position, too.”
At Gainesville High School, Menocal was named by USA Today as one of the top 25 high school players in America. He led Gainesville to three State 2-A championships in 1995, 1997 and 1998.
He was drafted in the sixth round by the Atlanta Braves out of high school and came very close to signing. “The Braves were my favorite team and I got to take batting practice with them,” he said. “The only reason I didn’t sign was because some of the others who had been recruited to Georgia Tech talked me out of it. That recruiting class was ranked No. 1 in America and we knew we had the potential to do big things.”
The Jackets took a first big step toward those big things when they won both the regular season and tournament championship in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season and swept the NCAA Atlanta Regional.
“I’m very glad I came to Georgia Tech,” Menocal says. “I have matured a lot here, I’ve met a lot of great people and I’ve experienced the ACC championships. It has been very rewarding for me.”
Menocal admits he struggled as a Tech freshman as he adjusted to college baseball. He has improved tremendously as a hitter and an infielder since then.
“For one thing, I have gotten a lot stronger,” he says. “I got into the weight program really big last summer and it has paid off for me. I weighed 182 when I came to Tech and I weigh 215 now.”
The Jacket infielder says a highlight of his time at Tech came in last year’s NCAA Atlanta Regional when he went 9-for-16 (.563), capped by a four-for-four performance in the championship victory over Stetson. He was voted to the All-Regional team.
Menocal likes to fish and play golf in his spare time, but one of his favorite past-times is watching Major League baseball. He attends many Atlanta Braves’ games, but his favorite player is former Tech star Nomar Garciaparra of the Boston Red Sox. He proudly wears the same uniform number as Garciaparra’No. 5.
Menocal comes from an athletic family. His father, Gus, played baseball in his native land, Cuba. His older brother, Chris, was State high school tennis champion when the family lived in North Carolina, and his younger brother, David, plays both football and basketball.
Tech baseballers now set their sights on victories in the tough Atlantic Coast Conference race. The Jackets got off to a slow start when they dropped two out of three to ACC rival North Carolina State here.
“The same thing happened last year when we lost two of three to Duke early in the year,” Menocal says, “but we came back to win it all. I have confidence that can happen this season, too. We need to turn it around against Maryland this weekend.”
There never is any question, however, when Tech baseball players are asked their No. 1 goal. “Now, that we’ve won an ACC championship, we’re shooting for the national championship,” Menocal says. “We hope to experience that, too. In my three years here, I’ve seen a lot of talent. When we get all our injured players back this year, this team can be very special.”
Along the way, Menocal is still over there at the hot corner, getting tips from the best college player in the game and having a whole lot of fun.