Why Can’t BJ Boyd Get His Shot?

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A young couple holds their toddler on the sidelines of a baseball field
BJ Boyd (right) with his wife Tatiana and daughter Bria. A graduate of Palo Alto High School, Boyd has been through the rosters of various Double-A and Triple-A teams, waiting expectantly for his chance at the major leagues. (Courtesy the Boyd Family)

BJ Boyd is soaking up his last few days in Palo Alto on a recent May afternoon. Two-year-old daughter Bria is climbing on daddy while he’s on the phone. When wife Tatiana returns in the evening, the family will enjoy a walk around the neighborhood.

Once he finalizes his dual citizenship documentation, Boyd plans to return to Mexico for the regular season with the Acereros de Monclova, a team of former MLB All-Stars, Gold Glove winners and castoffs. It’s the first time the Palo Alto High School graduate has ventured outside of the United States during an athletic career that includes stints with the Oakland A’s and Minnesota Twins organizations, broken up by a season playing football at Foothill College in Los Altos.

A week earlier, Boyd was playing preseason games in the Mexican League, a rough equivalent to Triple-A baseball. On his Acereros roster were Pablo Sandoval, the 2012 World Series hero for the San Francisco Giants; Chris Carter, the former Oakland A’s prospect who led the American League in home runs in 2016; and Bruce Maxwell, the former A’s catcher who in 2017 was the first MLB player to kneel during the national anthem in protest of police brutality.

After a recent team photoshoot in front of the Monclova stadium, Boyd got a glimpse of the steel town (Acereros translates to “Steelers”) while riding in the back of a truck. Monclova, a three-hour drive south of the Texas border, is a long way from Palo Alto, where Tatiana is expecting the couple’s second child in September. She recently resigned from her job with the school district to care for Bria full-time.

“It takes a special family dynamic to want to go through this,” said Tatiana, who plans to visit BJ in June and July. “The 2-year-old takes it hard when Dad leaves. I was excited because I wanted to visit and experience something new. You only live once, and why not?”


‘I Have to Leave the States to Make More Money’

The Mexican League contract is the biggest of Boyd’s career. The team provides players with shared apartments—humble dwellings for professional athletes looking to jump-start careers.

“If I can play with these big leaguers here, I can play with them in the States,” said the burly left-handed hitter who batted .319 with 15 homers in Double-A last season with the Minnesota Twins organization. “Some of my teammates ask, ‘How did you not get a shot?’ It is what it is.”

The “shot” Boyd seeks is in the majors, where a declining percentage of Black players—from a high of 18% in the 1980s to around 7% last season—leads Boyd wondering if more than stats have kept him from opportunities. He isn’t alone. In 2020, after police killings of unarmed Black civilians led to national protests, a group of Black baseball players formed the Players Alliance, aimed at growing diversity and equity in the game. MLB has pledged to donate up to $150 million over 10 years to the organization.

“It doesn’t add up for me as an African American player that I have to leave the States to make more money,” Boyd said. “There’s a reason Bruce is in the (Mexican) league. He took a knee.”

A sign mounted at Trader Joe's across from Palo Alto High School in 2012, congratulating BJ Boyd on his signing with the Oakland A's.
A sign mounted at Trader Joe's across from Palo Alto High School in 2012, congratulating BJ Boyd on his signing with the Oakland A's. (Nina Thorsen/KQED)

A Brush With the A's, and a Return to Football

After being drafted by the A’s in 2012, Boyd proved a consistent hitter during his first five seasons in the lower minor leagues—taking buses from town to town, living with host families. The center fielder’s breakout season came in 2017 when, while playing with Double-A Midland, he was in contention for the Texas League batting title and finished third, hitting .323.

He played in 2018 with Triple-A Nashville, one level below the A’s, and hit .271 with 49 RBIs. But with a crowded outfield in Oakland, Boyd didn’t like his chances of making the MLB roster in spring training. After seven minor-league seasons, and with his college football eligibility intact, Boyd returned to the other sport he excelled at in his youth.

As a teenager, Boyd jumped at the A’s signing bonus instead of pursuing college football. “The instant money was right there, and I didn’t come from money,” Boyd said. It’s a decision he regrets after years in the minors of getting passed for opportunities he feels he deserved. When the A’s drafted dual-sport athlete Kyler Murray in 2018, Boyd wasn’t surprised when the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback turned down the A’s offer for instant stardom in the NFL.

Dual sport athletes were once more common, with Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders setting the standard for NFL-MLB crossovers in the 1980s and 1990s. Jackson is the only player to become an MLB All-Star and NFL Pro Bowl player. Sanders once played in an NFL game and MLB playoff game on the same day. Over the last 20 years, however, as professional teams invest more money in players and athletes become more specialized, the trend has fallen off.

Even more uncommon is what Boyd attempted. At age 26, the 230-pounder was eight years older than many of his Foothill teammates. He brought “a sense of maturity that the young guys followed,” assistant coach Brandon Younger said. Working as a security guard at night, Boyd took classes during the day. On the football field, the running back totaled 653 total yards and six touchdowns for an Owls team that finished the 2019 regular season unbeaten.

A young couple holds their toddler daughter on the baseball field at night.
'He's always made something out of nothing," says wife Tatiana (left) of BJ Boyd. The couple are currently expecting their second child together. (Courtesy the Boyd Family)

‘Home Run After Home Run’

“He didn’t grow up with a lot,” said Tatiana, who as a child lived blocks away from BJ in north Palo Alto. The two began dating when she returned from college. “He’s always had to make something out of nothing, always looking for the next thing to do to get better as a person.”

As for Tatiana, “She’s the reason why I get to play,” Boyd said.

Shortly after the football season, Tatiana gave birth to Bria. When the coronavirus struck in 2020, the MLB season was postponed and Foothill’s football season was canceled. BJ and Tatiana got married in September 2020 in Carmel, at a time when Boyd was unsure of his athletic future. He resumed coaching youth baseball teams—Top Tier and Swagger Athletics—in the South Bay, and worked out with a personal trainer to stay prepared for his next professional opportunity. (Boyd continues to work with area youth; in February, he joined Oakland native and former MLB All-Star Tyson Ross in hosting a free baseball clinic at the Riekes Center in Menlo Park.)

In 2021, Boyd gave baseball another chance. After a brief stint with an independent league team, the Twins signed him to a minor-league deal. The outfielder established himself as one the league’s best hitters with Double-A Wichita. And for the first time in his career, he was driving the ball out of the park. “He was hitting home run after home run,” recalls Tatiana, who flew to the Midwest with Bria to catch the hot hitting in person. “He knew he was back and he wanted to stay back. He was on fire and it was so much fun to watch.” Boyd’s previous season high for homers was eight; he equaled that total over a nine-game span in August alone.

Boyd was called up to Triple-A St. Paul, where his hitting fell off. Despite his impressive Double-A statistics, coming after two years away from baseball, Boyd didn’t receive MLB calls once the owners’ lockout ended this spring. Then Monclova offered.

A man in a blue baseball uniform runs the bases on the baseball diamond.
BJ Boyd in uniform for the Acereros, in Monclova, where he hopes to join a roster that includes Bay Area favorites Pablo Sandoval and Josh Reddick. (Courtesy the Boyd Family)

A League in Need of His Hitting

“For me, going to Mexico, I feel way better,” said Boyd, who hopes to join an active roster that includes former A’s Gold Glove winner Josh Reddick. “People make jokes and say it’s an exile league. They take care of their players better than the minor leagues. They pay better than the States.”

As the current MLB season rolls along, Boyd can’t help but notice paltry offensive stats across the league. The A’s, who once drafted Boyd, currently have a .199 team batting average. The Arizona Diamondbacks are hitting .203. The league average is .234, on pace to be the worst average in its 152-year history.

Boyd’s ability to hit for a high average is a skill that, in recent years, has been devalued by MLB teams whose analytics say batters should swing for the fences, or not at all. But with MLB hitters struggling at historic levels—perhaps because of a controversial alteration to the baseballs—Boyd could draw the attention of teams in need of a bat.

“If it comes I would definitely take it,” Boyd said of an MLB offer. “But I’d rather stay in Mexico than go back to the minor leagues. I’ve already been to Triple-A and Double-A. I’ve already proven myself. But why didn’t I get my chance? That’s my question to the MLB.”