Kevin Vital remains steadfast in his belief that things will turn around.
The Northside baseball coach is positive that success can be cultivated at the school, which has long struggled with fielding a consistent winner on the diamond. The team hasn’t made the postseason in more than a decade and has been traditionally overshadowed by the school’s football, basketball and track programs. Not to mention that the Vikings have gone 11-56 overall and 0-36 in District 5-4A play in Vital’s three seasons at the helm.
Yet, none of that has shaken the former Southern University baseball star’s faith that Northside can and will become a competitive program.
“It is just a matter of time,” said Vital, whose team wraps up the season Saturday at Baker. “If Northside was once time successful in baseball, then there is no doubt in my mind that it can be that again.”
Vital has reason to be optimistic since he has had plenty of success as a player and coach.
After being a three-sport letterman at Loreauville, Vital went on to play for the Jaguars where he would earn All-SWAC honors following his senior season. He was drafted in the 18th round by the Houston Astros and spent three years in the minor leagues. After going back to school to get his master’s degree, Vital served as hitting coach at Alcorn State and helped the Braves win their first conference championship.
That same success has not come as easily at Northside, and patience, and plenty of it, has been an instrumental to Vital’s approach.
“When you look at a baseball player in high school you would like to think they know the fundamentals, but they didn’t,” Vital said. “For a lot of these kids they have only played at recreational parks where there hasn’t been a ton of teaching or time to teach rather. They know how to catch or bat, but they didn’t know how to position their bodies to be in the position to catch or how to swing at a changeup. It has been a huge challenge to for them to learn the game of baseball.”
Added assistant coach A.J. Jones, “Baseball is not a sport where you can get by on athletic ability,” said Jones, who played at New Iberia High School. “You have to be mentally strong. You are playing a game where it’s 70-percent failure. It takes a special person to be a baseball player.”
Teaching fundamentals and instilling discipline is one challenge but not nearly as daunting as getting athletes at the school to commit to baseball. Every year the program has lost players to either football or basketball, including this year which lost a handful of starters from last year’s team as those players opted to solely focus on those other sports.
“The kids just don’t flock to it,” Vital said. “It is unfortunate because those kids could really excel. They really could be a kid that could accomplish something special by giving it a chance. I am not talking about playing one season but really work at it just like they do at the other sports.”
That frustration is shared by Vikings players.
Mike Walker has had to watch from the dugout this season after being sidelined for the season after having a screw placed in his right knee. The Northside junior third baseman-pitcher said a lot of the team’s inability to win games comes from lack of effort.
“It is a lack of commitment,” Walker said. “We have players that go all out for football, basketball and other sports but not baseball. After practice they don’t worry about baseball. They focus on other things like school work, other events, girls, church or whatever they do. They don’t watch TV about baseball or they don’t watch YouTube videos. They just don’t try to better themselves outside of practice.”
Junior pitcher Markaylon Boyd echoed that sentiment.
“Baseball is the last sport during the year,” Boyd said. “Some people just play because it can be an extra patch on their letterman jacket or it can be something that they can do just to do. Some of the guys, not all of them, just come to baseball just to come and aren’t really committed.”
That lack of full commitment has a domino effect on the team during games. A misplayed groundball that allowed a base runner will then lead to a breakdown on defense and heads began to hang and the team is zapped of energy. All of the sudden a two-run game becomes a 10-run mercy rule contest.
“The players need have a more positive mindset about it and be more serious,” Boyd said. “When things are good during a game, then they are all for it but once we get down then some of them slack off or take a play off a little bit and that allows the other team to get on top.”
For Boyd and Walker, who will be returning for their senior seasons, they firmly believe that the program can turn around. That the Vikings once again reach a level of respectability, like the program had in the early 1990’s when Christopher Gobert was a star on the mound for the Vikings. Gobert would be drafted by the New York Mets in the 1992 draft and then again in the 19th round by the Atlanta Braves in 1994.
Much like their coach Vital, Boyd and Walker simply say for that to finally happen the Vikings, all of them, just have to alter their mindset.
“We have people that do want to play on this team,” Walker said. “They are trying their best to play and coming out every game working and showing their true talents, but other players are not there. We need a full nine to be a good baseball team.”
“If we had more people that liked to get better and not accept losing so much, then we could really be something,” Boyd said.