While many baseball players’ journey to Lower Columbia College is rather direct, local pitcher Yancy Bird took the scenic route to playing for the Red Devils.
After his 2016 graduation from Kelso High School and a stint on a local American Legion baseball team, Bird winged his way to California. There he joined a summer team, playing with former Kelso teammates Zach Threlfall and Max McDaniel.
“(They) texted me and wanted to know if I wanted to play some baseball with them on a team in California,” Bird said. “They were going to San Diego, which is where I lived before moving to Kelso.”
Bird joined his friends in Southern California to play in a tournament, where he was noticed by the coaches at Cal State-Northridge.
“I went for a school visit, but didn’t enroll in school or participate in workouts with them,” he said. “I had just turned 18, and I realized I was too young. I had never moved far from home, and it was too big of a step for me.”
Bird returned to Kelso and contacted then LCC coach Eddie Smith about playing for the Red Devils. By the time Bird made the call, Smith had already made his decision about his starters and bullpen staff.
“Coach told me how many innings I’d get, and I knew it wasn’t enough for me,” Bird said. “I am too competitive to throw only a few innings. I realized I could take a redshirt, take all the time, coaching and training offered by coaches Smith, Lane and Sanderson, and I’d be more effective the next season.”
Bird has settled into a starting role with the Red Devils, and he hasn’t disappointed. In his second outing of the season against Lane College of Eugene, Bird threw seven perfect innings with four strikeouts.
“That’s hard to do in this game,” LCC coach Eric Lane said. “You look at the numbers, and there’s not a lot of no-hitters or perfect games out there. He can be so dominant, and when he’s on he can dominate any hitter at this level and probably the next level.”
It was Bird’s first-ever perfect outing, along with his first no-hitter.
“I understood why I was taken out of the game since I had thrown about 85 pitches,” he said. “There have been only four guys in the last five years who have thrown more than 100 pitches in a game here. I wish I could’ve finished the game, but I also understand I want to pitch another 10-15 years.”
Lane has also observed physical and mental growth in Bird since joining the Red Devils.
“He’s been great,” he said. “He’s gained confidence from his teammates because he has better stuff than most of the pitchers in this league. I believe pitching wins championships, and to have a guy like Yancy who is so electric is huge.”
Bird isn’t your typical right-handed pitcher. His delivery is a three-quarters sidearm which gives his pitches a different look on release. He developed the style out of necessity.
“When I was 12, I showed up for a baseball tryout,” he said. “I went there without any offseason warmups, and was making a lot of long throws from the outfield. I also played shortstop and pitched, and it all took a toll on my arm.”
Bird, who pitched overhand at the time, developed pain in his shoulder when he tried to throw the ball. One day when he was playing with some friends, he threw a ball sidearm and found it didn’t hurt his shoulder.
“When I first started pitching that way, I had some problems hitting the strike zone,” he said. “My fastball tails in to the right-handers, and a ball thrown down the middle of the plate curves inside.”
Bird spent his 12- and 13-year-old seasons working on locating his pitches. He went from being wild with his pitch location to effectively wild in high school where he struck out 74 batters in 47 1/3 innings and had a 1.78 earned run average as a senior. While his high school fastball averaged 86-87 miles per hour, Bird has elevated it to 88-90 at LCC, peaking at 92.
“We do a lot of workouts with a weighted ball in the weight room to strengthen muscles and get loose,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to blow my fastball by guys, so I put a little more oomph on them.”
Lane noted that Bird’s fastball is one of his strengths.
“Yancy has a funky sidearm slinging motion, and throwing a fastball at 89-92 at this level really helps,” Lane said. “He works quick and gets ahead of hitters. He’s also been working on a change-up and slider which has made him a better pitcher.”
While there aren’t a lot of pitching coaches who work with sidearm pitchers, Bird has received effective input from LCC pitching coach Ian Sanderson and longtime area coach Dennis Mackey.
“We work together to figure out what’s best for me,” Bird said. “A lot of strengthening drills are for overhand pitching, so there’s specific drills I do on my own to strengthen my forearm and below the elbow.”
Bird has also been told to stop his pitching style.
“A lot of people told me I would end up injuring my arm and need Tommy John surgery because of how my elbow is bending,” he said. “I’ve never had any elbow issues.”
Bird has received calls from four-year schools, but he plans to return to LCC next season, where he’s studying to become a physical trainer or chiropractor.
“Going from here to any school will be a mindset thing,” he said. “The extra year I’ll spend here will further build my confidence so I know I can strikeout any one, or give up something that my teammates will field behind me.”