In more ways than one, Jared Vial’s story was quite unlikely, one made a reality thanks to serious drive and determination.LSU-Shreveport’s senior catcher helped lead the Pilots to a 38-20 record and a berth in the NAIA postseason. He batted .416 this season (second on the team) over 31 games with five home runs, 33 RBIs and a .457 on-base percentage (third on the team).
The story behind the climb to those numbers reads as if it were out of a storybook. Vial—the son of former HHS softball coach Kenneth Vial and the brother of VCU standout pitcher Brooks Vial — was a solid producer at Hahnville High School during his prep playing days but didn’t earn great accolades. He wasn’t an All-State performer, nor was he All-District.
But he wanted to play at the next level. Initially, he wanted to walk on for Nicholls State, but the team didn’t have a spot for him. But Colonels coaches knew of a school that might have a need for catcher in Texas. Not wanting to make that move, Vial let his college baseball dreams go, if only for a little while.
A few months later, he had the itch again. He and his father set out to take an official visit to the school, but the two decided that if they were headed to Texas, they would see more than one campus.
Before the trip, Kenneth Vial got word that LSU-Shreveport had to cut their starting catcher, so there might be an opportunity there.
“We didn’t even know they played baseball there,” Kenneth said. “But they’ve got a good program and they play really good baseball in that conference … we told them, ‘if you want (Jared), we’re in.’ And we started from there.”
He sat initially, then slowly earned more and more playing time. He had 16 at-bats his first year. His second season, he earned a handful of starts at first base. And in his final two seasons, he evolved into an every day starter and, by his final season, a linchpin in the middle of their order.
But he would have to respond to adversity again before his career was through. Jared started the first 14 games of this season at catcher and carried a hot bat along with him. But then misfortune — and pain — struck. He was injured on a swing bunt play, suffering a completely dislocated elbow.
“I thought all the ligaments were torn,” Jared said. “My arm bent completely back and I felt like my elbow popped and locked out. They told me I looked like a deer who just got shot. I circled around and just fell over. I thought, ‘this ain’t good.’
“I didn’t think I would be back, at least at first.”
The timing was unfortunate, to say the least. Jared was batting .390 on the season and hit for the cycle in the game before he was injured. He was 4-for-4 in the game he suffered the injury.
It was thought Jared would be out for the season initially, but X-rays revealed some better news — the damage was not as severe as first thought and if Jared committed to rehabbing vigorously, he might be able to return. He did just that, meeting with his trainer three times a day — “he’s the man,” Jared praised — and also put in time with the team’s physical therapist.
Once a walk-on who simply wanted a chance to earn a spot on a collegiate team, Jared now felt like a priority. That only motivated him to work harder.
“We felt there was a chance. Each week, it got better,” Jared said. “I knew this was my senior year and I had to at least try to get back. It was my last chance to play.
“When it came down to it, I didn’t want to go out like that, just as I was heating up. I wanted to go out on a good note.”
He did that and then some. With four weeks left in the season, Jared returned with a vengeance. His average already at .390 upon his return, he started spraying hits all over the field. By season’s end, his average settled in at .428.
“It was almost a blessing in disguise,” he said of the injury. “It made me more selective. I knew I didn’t have that many swings, so when I got the first fastball or curve I liked, I went for it.”
To Jared, hitting is much more about the mental side of the game.
“I’ve always felt that with the right mindset and approach, you can hit with a broomstick,” Jared said. “I’m more about mentality than mechanics. (Hitting) is beautiful, it really is. A pitcher can have his best stuff one day, but if you’re ready to take him on, you can get it done.”
He also said his natural mentality lends to hitting. Jared is more comfortable when he’s on the attack.
“I want to go hit something,” he said. “I don’t want to wait for the action to come to me.”
Kenneth said that if someone truly wants to play and extend their playing career, his son is an example that with a little perseverance, you can find a school and thrive.
And thrive Jared has.
“It feels really good,” he said. “In a way, obviously you get motivated by the fact that nobody else gave you a chance. But at the same time, that put me where I needed to be to give myself a chance to become all I could be as a player.”