A small school in the far northern rural reaches of Sacramento County may be the prototype to attract more African Americans to baseball.
Jerry Manuel, a former major-league player and manager, and his son, Anthony, operate an academy that melds academics with intense baseball instruction, similar to European soccer clubs and MLB academies in Latin America.
The Jerry Manuel Foundation charter school has 60 students – two-thirds of whom are African Americans – in grades six through nine who come from throughout the region. Most attend Alpha Middle School in Elverta.
Anthony Manuel, who played at Biola University – he was the only African American on the team – and in the New York Mets organization, is the foundation’s coach and director of baseball operations.
Jerry Manuel, a former Cordova High School star who managed the Chicago White Sox and New York Mets, is the school’s founder and one of the movers and shakers of MLB’s diversity committee that is looking to expand urban leagues and academies, improve coaching and better market players.
Much of the financial support for the Manuel Foundation school has come from former major-league slugger Derrek Lee, who played at El Camino High School and was the last prominent African American baseball player to come from the area.
The Manuels started 31/2 years ago with a 14-and-under travel team that has since sent a number of African American players to area high schools. They include El Camino junior Vince Byrd, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound first baseman who led the Sac-Joaquin Section with eight home runs in the regular season.
“The travel teams were fine, but we realized we needed to have that education component if we really wanted to transform lives,” Anthony Manuel said. “The idea is to keep them interested, keep them excited about baseball. But you don’t see the field if you aren’t taking care of business in the classroom.”
He said there already are success stories. Tobias Menefee, who joined the foundation in 2012 as a 12-year-old, had not played baseball. He’s now arguably the academy’s best player.
“He’s 6-2, fast and built like Terrell Owens,” Anthony Manuel said. “He’s starting to pitch and is already throwing in the low 80s.”
The players train and practice throughout the year and play in tournaments and even some exhibitions against area high school teams.
“Our goal is to add a class each year until we have our first graduating class in 2017,” Anthony Manuel said.
The Manuels think their concept will spawn similar academies throughout the country.
“We’re looking at Major League Baseball partnering with us to take this around the country,” Anthony Manuel said. “We think that’s the way to get the numbers of African Americans back up in high school, college and the pros.”
Call The Bee’s Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.