ATLANTA — When Victor Menocal first came to Gainesville, he knew exactly two other people in Northeast Georgia: his mother and father.
By the time Menocal graduated from Gainesville High in 1998, he left as one of the most celebrated athletes in the area’s history after playing a key role in three baseball state titles and signing a scholarship to play for Georgia Tech.
After some early struggles with the Yellow Jackets, Menocal again soared, leading Tech to the College World Series as a senior and being named to the all-College World Series team.
Now Menocal’s name will be memorialized alongside the area’s other great athletes, as he is inducted into the Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in August.
"It’s quite an honor," said Menocal. "To be considered alongside some of the great people already in the Hall of Fame makes me appreciate how special this is."
And to think it might not have happened here.
Thanks to his father’s business transferring the Menocal family from Wilmington, N.C., to Gainesville, Menocal joined the Red Elephants baseball team as a freshman in 1995.
"(Then-Gainesville) coach (Wayne) Vickery told my dad I’d have to play hard to earn a spot on the team. I liked that challenge," said Menocal. "I almost decided to play soccer. I obviously made the right choice."
Menocal helped lead Gainesville to state titles in 1996-98, anchoring the team as a senior in ’98 when he was the only returning starter. He even hit a home run in his final prep career at-bat, launching a shot into Lake Lanier from the home plate at Ivey-Watson field during the state championship-clinching game.
"He was a great role model, a great player and a great person," said Vickery — himself a Hall of Fame inductee. "I’ve got to put him up there with (current Cincinnati Reds pitcher and former Gainesville High standout) Micah (Owings). Of course, Micah probably had more talent around him than Victor."
While not playing anymore, Menocal is still involved with baseball.
After a three-year career in the Philadelphia Phillies organization and a stint as an assistant coach with Georgia Tech, Menocal is currently a sports agent with Career Sports and Entertainment in Atlanta, where he is instrumental in contract negotiations, advising players through the Major League Baseball amateur draft process, and managing players’ everyday needs.
"If you’ve seen ‘Jerry Maguire,’ it’s kind of like that," Menocal said, chuckling. "I love it, and I feel like I can do a good job because I’ve been in the shoes that a lot of our clients are in. I’ve been in small towns in the middle of nowhere, struggling to make things work. I obviously help them out on the business side, but I can give them advice, too."
Anyone who watched Menocal’s career at Gainesville or in Atlanta would believe his advice is well worth hearing.
An athletic shortstop that lettered all four years both with the Red Elephants and Yellow Jackets, Menocal left high school as an All-American and finished his time in Atlanta with Tech’s career record of 955 at bats. He was also second in hits (316), fourth in games played (238), fifth in doubles (54), seventh in runs scored (212) and 12th in total bases (406). Menocal was also one of just nine players in Yellow Jacket history to have 100 hits in a season and was one of only two Jackets to record back-to-back seasons with at least 100 hits.
The final numbers were in stark contrast, however, to the way his career began at Georgia Tech.
"I struggled as a freshman," said Menocal of his transition to collegiate baseball. "They allowed me to wear Nomar Garciaparra’s No. 5, and that combined with a lot of high expectations. I think I just tried to do too much. I started thinking too much about what I had to do at the plate and in the field."
Yet Yellow Jackets coach Danny Hall stuck with Menocal, a move that paid off both for the program — during his senior season, Menocal led the team in batting (.360), doubles (20) and hits (92) — and for the player.
"That struggle made me a better person," said Menocal. "It made me want to come back stronger and prove what I could do."
The Northeast Georgia Sports Hall of Fame is located in the Northeast Georgia History Center on the campus of Brenau University.
On Aug. 29, University of Georgia athletics director Damon Evans will be at the Georgia Mountain Center in downtown Gainesville to honor 15 northeast Georgia athletes and one incredibly successful team. There will be five new inductees into the Hall of Fame and 10 additional athletes will be honored as the first Elite 10, some of Northeast Georgia’s best high school athletes of the last 10 years.
The induction ceremony will be open to the public, and tickets and sponsorships are available. For more information, call Glen Kyle at the Northeast Georgia History Center, 770-297-5900.