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Tournaments | Story | 7/2/2019

Victor's voyage on display

Cory Van Dyke     
Photo: Najer Victor (Perfect Game)

EMERSON, Ga. – Najer Victor stepped on the mound ready to fire an array of pitches at a velocity that would surely spark some interest from those in attendance at the 2019 WWBA 17u National Championship. However, just one pitch into his warm up routine, the two words that no one wants to see appeared on the scoreboard at LakePoint Sports Complex: lightning delay.

Victor wasn’t affected, though, keeping loose during the time with some resistance band exercises. Viewers had to wait another two hours before he took the bump again. Once he did, everyone was treated to the pure pulsating stuff that Victor presents with a fastball that reached as high as 95 mph and a curveball that caught hitters off-balance with extreme movement.

“He’s just really calm and collected to where nothing seems to faze him,” Power Baseball 2020 head coach Jesse Marlo said. “I think that rubs off on the rest of the team. I always think that’s a good quality to have in your best players.”

Despite losing 3-1 to Richmond Braves 17u National, Victor was superb for Power Baseball, fanning 10 batters over five innings. He surrendered just three hits, one walk, and no earned runs. While Victor might turn the most heads when he’s pitching, he also had the only RBI of the game and qualifies as what Marlo calls a “freak athlete” with a 60 time of 6.54 seconds. 

“He brings our team a lot of confidence because we have a guy who’s going to run it up there 90-94,” Marlo said. “It’s so electric that he’s that guy when he steps on the field you just want to watch him because he can do things that normal human beings can’t do.”

What makes Victor’s dominance on the mound all that more impressive is the journey he’s been on to arrive to where he is today. 

In 2017, Hurricane Maria rampaged through the U.S. Virgin Islands. The island was devastated and Victor made the move over to Clermont, Florida, knowing the better opportunities that existed. However, it was a move that chiseled away at Victor’s core, knowing his parents wouldn’t be able to follow.

“The transition was really hard, but it was a good move because the competition is really better here,” Victor said. “I got a lot more exposure around here, especially with the Perfect Game tournaments. 

“It’s really tough. Not being able to wake up and see your mom or your dad every day is hard.”

Victor now uses it all for motivation. When he works out, Victor listens to a playlist of all the songs that his family used to enjoy together. It helps him feel that connection even when they’re worlds apart.

“Everything I do, I do it for them,” Victor said.

Victor’s sister, Janiya, also made the journey over, but she’s settled in Philadelphia. Victor beamed with pride when talking about his sister who starts at shortstop for the boy’s team at John Bartram High School. Those early days back in the Virgin Islands shaped both Najer and Janiya.

“Every time I went to workout, she’s there with me,” Victor said. “She’s like my right hand. She’s always there. No matter what I do. If I’m pitching she’s catching with me. She’s squatting back there catching for me and the other way around, vice versa.”

A UCF commit, Victor plays with pride for his native country. It’s why he’s followed the careers of Jharel Cotton and Jabari Blash who have put the Virgin Islands on the map in the MLB. He’s even seen players like Alex McFarlane, another St. Thomas native and someone he used to pitch with when he was younger, get drafted in the 2019 MLB draft, knowing that could be him in 2020.

What’s incredible is that Victor almost abandoned that dream when he first arrived in the United States.

“When I first moved here, I wasn’t playing baseball anymore like I was back home,” Victor said. “After everything that happened, we were just working and everything.”

It took one phone call from a current teammate, Dwanye Maduro’s dad to convince him otherwise. 

“He said, ‘Our team needs some players. You can come down and play with us if you want to. It would be a life changing event. Just come move here with us. I promise you you’re going to make something out of yourself.’”

And so ever since, Victor and his cousin Jahlani Rogers, a Florida Gulf Coast commit, have been living with Maduro and playing on Power Baseball 2020.

It certainly has been a life changing event for Victor. The attention he’s able to garner from college coaches and scouts is an added bonus, plus he’s built an unforgettable bond with those players on Power Baseball.

“It’s a lot more fun here,” Victor said. “There’s a lot more people watching you. It really makes you push because when you look back you want to do good and help your team do good.

“I enjoy playing with these guys. This is the best summer I’m having right now just friends wise and everything. They all have my back.”

The past week may not have panned out as planned for Victor and Co., as Power Baseball sits with a 3-3 record with one pool play game remaining, but Victor is milking the experience in Georgia for all that it’s worth. Really, that’s what his trying journey over the past three years has taught him the most.

”He’s happy to be out here and given this opportunity to play with these guys and be on this stage to showcase his abilities,” Marlo said. “He’s just a grateful kid.”

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