I had a chance to sit down and talk to Jeff Manship about his baseball experiences this off-season. Here are Jeff’s thoughts….
- Growing up, what baseball player did you look up to and why?
I was always a big fan of Ken Griffey Jr. I felt that he carried himself in the right way and had amazing talent. It also helped that I loved his video game on Super Nintendo.
- Please recap and share some experiences from playing on the 16-under Team USA.
Playing for the youth national team was an unbelievable experience. To earn a chance to make the team I first had to compete in a tournament in Tucson, AZ with my traveling team called the San Antonio Express. After being selected I had to go to a tryout tournament at the University of Houston. It was my first real experience of college life. Every player stayed in dorms on campus and had a meal pass for the day at the dining hall, which resulted in more Pizza Hut and Chinese food than a normal human should eat. I really don’t think I was supposed to make the team because I wasn’t a big time prospect at the time. I was undersized and didn’t necessarily throw too hard. I played well, though, and earned a spot as a reliever. We played in a world tournament in Veracruz, Mexico. I had never left the country before so it was a great experience to witness another culture first-hand. I only pitched in a few innings but pitched well. We beat Venezuela in the championship game and won a gold medal. It was an unbelievable honor to play with USA on my jersey.
- Please recap and share some experiences from playing on the 18-under Team USA.
I played a much bigger role on the 18-under team than on the 16-under team. It was a bitter/sweet tournament for me that year. I was able to earn a position in the starting rotation and threw in game 2 against the host, Curacao. I threw one of the best games of my life, but also threw a lot of pitches. I started again a few days later and ended up tearing the ligament away from the bone in my elbow. I’ll never forget that experience and the discomfort I felt in my elbow and forearm. Unfortunately, we ended up losing to Cuba in the championship game. With my elbow, it was something that was bound to happen at some point in my career. Throwing a lot of pitches in my first game and then coming back so quickly was the final straw. I still had an amazing time in Curacao, despite what happened, and met some great teammates and coaches.
- You won the Gold Medal with Team USA in 2001. Please recap that experience.
It was a great experience to win a gold medal for our country. Even though the actual medal was a piece of spray painted metal with a rope attached to it, it was still a great honor.
- Who were some of the other players you played with on either Team USA that have now also made it to the majors?
I was fortunate enough to play and get to know a bunch of players who are now in professional baseball. On the 18-under team I played with Daniel Bard, Billy Butler, Chris Valaika, and Neil Walker who all made it to the majors. There are plenty of other players who are right there too and should make it up in a year or two. On the 16-under team I played with Lastings Milledge, Xavier Paul, and Jarod Saltalamacchia. Again, there are plenty of others from that team who have a solid chance of making it to the majors.
- You threw four no hitters and one perfect game while attending Ronald Reagan High School in San Antonio. Which was your favorite of these games and why?
I would say my favorite was the perfect game. I was unaware of the fact that I had a perfect game until the last inning when one of my teammates accidentally blurted it out. Thankfully, it didn’t phase me and I was able to finish the game without allowing a runner on base. While that game was my favorite, it wasn’t the most memorable. During my junior year we were playing in the semi-finals to go to state. I threw a no-hitter but lost 1-0. I walked two batters and the opposing team ran a trick play to score the lone run of the game. It was the first game of a 3 game series, but we ended up losing the next game too. I can’t imagine too many people have thrown a no-hitter and lost.
On April 23, 1964, Ken Johnson of the Houston Colt .45s became the only pitcher to lose a complete game no-hitter in nine innings when he was beaten 1-0 by Cincinnati. The winning run was scored by Pete Rose in the top of the ninth inning via an error, groundout, and another error. In 1967, Steve Barber and Stu Miller of the Baltimore Orioles pitched a combined no-hitter, but lost 2-1 to the Detroit Tigers.
- You were originally drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks, but chose to attend Notre Dame. What brought you to this decision?
My parents and I were set on me pursuing my education first before signing a professional contract. I wanted a fall-back plan in case baseball didn’t work out. I am thankful to have a college degree knowing that a player’s career could end at any moment.
- You ended up missing your freshman year with the Irish due to reconstructive elbow surgery. Was this due to an injury or just wear and tear over time? When having this surgery, did you regret not signing with the Diamondbacks?
As I stated before, my elbow was bound to tear at some point. I’m actually happy it happened during my freshman year so I could still have time to recover and get drafted after my junior year. I have never once regretted not signing out of college regardless of what happened. I absolutely loved my years at Notre Dame and wouldn’t trade anything in the world for those experiences. I met some great people, got to watch some intense football games, almost froze to death, and got a great degree.
- You and I spoke before of playing with Jeff Samardzija, how was that experience?
It was a lot of fun playing with Samardzija. He’s both a great guy and player. He is easily one of the best athletes I have ever played with. It was a lot of fun getting to watch him excel on the football field too. He did some pretty remarkable stuff in his last couple years.
- You were later drafted in the 14th round by Minnesota and assigned to the Gulf Coast League and then Fort Myers for the 2006 season. Please recap some of the highlights of being drafted, signed and getting to finally play professionally in 2006.
I was a little upset with how the draft turned out in terms of the round, but I was fortunate enough to be drafted by a great organization in the Minnesota Twins. I ended up signing in August because I was negotiating with the Twins so 2006 was a short season for me. I threw in a couple outings with the GCL, a few with Fort Myers, and then left early to attend classes at Notre Dame. I can remember it being so hot in Florida. I wasn’t used to anything like that up at Notre Dame so it took some adjusting.
- In 2007, you had a very productive year with Beloit, earning a Mid-West League All-Star nod. What was it like getting elected and participating in your first professional all-star game?
Playing in Beloit was a lot of fun. It was my first spring training and full season in 2007 so I didn’t know what to expect. We had a very talented team in Beloit and won the division in the first half. I want to say we had 7 all-stars on that team. My first all-star game was an exciting experience. We played in Kane County, IL and I was selected to start the game. It was a lot of fun pitching in front of about 8,000 fans.
- In 2008, you had similar success with Fort Myers and earned a Florida State League All-Star nod. Please recap this success and how it compared to already appearing once in an All-Star game.
Our team in Fort Myers was similar to our team in Beloit so we had a lot of success. Again, we won the division in the first half and had about 5 or 6 all-stars. The high A all-star game wasn’t as much fun as the low A game but everybody still enjoyed it.
- You finished 2008 on a statistical decline after your promotion to New Britain. Was the experience in AA discouraging or did it only motivate you more in looking ahead to 2009?
It only motivated me. AA is a very tough level and you can’t take it lightly. I had heard that one of the biggest jumps in pro baseball is from high A to AA and I completely agree with that. The hitters are much more patient and you have to pitch smarter. As a starter it is imperative that you can throw 3 pitches for strikes.
- In 2009, you advanced all the way from AA to Minnesota. What are your best memories of climbing so fast through this season?
I started the season off a little slow in AA and finally caught my stride. I was able to string together a bunch of solid outings resulting in a promotion to AAA. The streak continued, and I threw successfully in AAA for a month before being called up to Minnesota. The thing I was most happy with was that I was able to rebound after a poor start to the season. I didn’t give up and continued to work hard and it paid off.
- Also, what was the experience like when you found out you were going to be called up?
I really did not expect to get called up to the majors in 2009 because I wasn’t on the 40-man roster at the time. I was in Buffalo, NY and was supposed to start the next day so I had fallen asleep before midnight. My cell phone was charging across the room so I never heard it ring so our manager called the hotel phone. I can remember waking up and not being too pleased that someone was calling on the hotel phone. I answered and our manager told me the great news. At first I thought it might be a prank but to my satisfaction it was not. I didn’t sleep at all and had to catch a flight at 7 am. I had so much adrenaline it didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept much.
- The Twins made the playoffs in 2009, but you did not make the playoff roster. Due to the lack of major league experience, was this expected or was there the possible chance of making it to the playoffs with the team?
I figured there was a slim chance that I would make the playoff roster. Fortunately, the team allowed me to travel to New York City as a reserve. I had an unbelievable time watching the games from the dugout fully dressed out. As much as I would have liked to help the team in the playoffs, being there with them was the next best thing. There is nothing like a playoff experience against the Yankees.
- Please recap the experience of your first major league win.
My first major league win was very special for me because it came at a time when the team had to win. We entered the last series of the 2009 season against the Royals in a do-or-die situation. I was able to give the team a chance to win and we pulled it out. We proceeded to sweep the Royals in the series forcing game 163 against the Tigers. I had already made 4 starts before the game against Kansas City and had 3 no decisions and a loss. Earning the victory was special because it made me feel like I had contributed to the team and the push to the playoffs.
- What are your goals heading into the 2011 season?
My main goal is to make the team out of spring training in whatever role I can attain. I also want to make sure I stay healthy all season. I’ve been working out hard all off season to give myself the best chance of having a healthy 2011 season.
- What is some of the best advice you would have to the kids out there dreaming of being a major leaguer in general?
Definitely work as hard as you can at it. If you strive to be a major league baseball player don’t let anyone tell you different. Work towards that goal. If people tell you that you can’t do it just prove them wrong and work harder. When I was young my brother and I took any opportunity to go outside and play baseball. We never really got caught up in video games. If it wasn’t raining we were usually involved in some sport outside, mainly baseball.
- What is some of the best advice you have to kids wanting to be a pitcher in the majors?
My first piece of advice is to not throw breaking pitches until a more mature age. I started throwing a curveball at 10, which was way too early. I ended up falling in love with the pitch and needed Tommy John surgery after my senior year in high school. Also, when you’re at the right age it is important to have a shoulder weight routine and a theraband routine to strengthen the arm.
I just want to thank Jeff again for taking the time to sit down and answer my questions. All of us at 85% Sports wish you the best of luck in the 2011 season and your entire career.