Varsho behind Byrd's move to center

Varsho behind Byrd's move to center

PITTSBURGH -- One of the main reasons Marlon Byrd is playing center field today is because of former Cubs outfielder and current Pirates bench coach Gary Varsho, who campaigned for the youngster in the Minors.

Varsho was the manager in Reading, Pa., in 2001, and Byrd was on his team at the time but playing left field.

"That year, he was our best player," Varsho said of Byrd, now starting in center for the Cubs. "He was playing the corners. For me, evaluating Marlon Byrd, he needed to be our center fielder because he could do things -- he could get jumps on balls. He just naturally fit in the center-field category. Without wasting too much time, I said this kid needs to play center field."

It's one thing to have a Minor League coach make a suggestion. But Varsho was adamant with the Phillies' organization that center was where Byrd belonged.

"For him to get the opportunity was huge," Varsho said.

What Varsho saw was an athletic player with a good work ethic who could handle the routes and demands involved with playing center. Varsho did admit Byrd looked like he might be a better fit in the NFL as a running back back then.

"Absolutely," Varsho said. "But his mentality was 'Go get 'em, I can do this,' and he did."

At the time, Varsho said, Byrd was still learning his body a little. Byrd's right leg is a half-inch shorter than his left, and his athletic shoes are modified with a slight lift to even things out. That didn't slow Byrd.

"He could take off and go and make the plays," Varsho said.

Josue Perez was the center fielder in Reading at the time. Not for long. Byrd replaced him and proved he belonged there, batting .316 that season.

"[Varsho] is the reason I'm a center fielder," Byrd said of the ex-Cub who played in Chicago from 1988-90. "He's the first guy who told me I could play."

What Varsho also did was help Byrd in matters beyond baseball.

"He's the reason for a lot of things," Byrd said on Wednesday. "He's the reason I went from low [Class] A to Double-A because he fought for me hard. He's the reason for my baseball IQ. He taught me how to get ready for the big leagues. He taught me little things about the game that I didn't know, on and off the field. He wasn't just a manager. He was like a father figure to me."

Varsho doesn't like to take the credit and said Byrd did all the work.

"He was, to me, an easy choice to move to center field to help our pitching staff, to flag down balls and be a good defensive player," Varsho said. "I thought his offense was going to come. I'm so happy for his success. He's a great kid. He's quality.

"Now he's making catches behind his back," Varsho said, laughing. "I didn't teach him that."