April 12, 2005
'I was pretty much handed a baseball when I was born,' says Stanford pitcher Matt Manship with a smile when he discusses his family's history with the sport.
Indeed, the junior right-hander is following in a long line of baseball tradition within the family. His father, John, and uncle, Jim, both played collegiately at Arizona with Jim later continuing in the Milwaukee Brewers' organization. A cousin, Jeff, played at both Cal State Fullerton and Nevada, before moving on to the Cincinnati Reds farm system. His younger brother, Jeff, is currently in his second year with the Notre Dame program.
Much of the Manship family baseball history can be traced to Matt's backyard in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, where his father installed a pitching rubber and home plate to create a makeshift bullpen on a naturally sloping backyard.
Once his dad got the pitching rubber and plate installed, he also took on the role as bullpen catcher for both Matt and Jeff.
'He put on the full gear and everything,' Manship remembers fondly.
Manship's father relinquished his backyard catching duties when Matt was about 15 years old, probably because of the many hits he took behind the plate.
'It was nothing where he ever had to be sent to the hospital,' Matt joked. 'But, he used to wear a lot of balls off the ribs and be down for a while. I think he was tired of getting hit.'
Plus, a few stray pitches by the brothers put some holes in the boards of a backyard fence that Manship claims his mother, Patricia, probably wasn't too happy about.
'I think she got sick of fixing the holes in the fence,' says Manship, who says that his family prioritized the repair of holes by which ones the family dog could squeeze through.
Although he claims to have not thrown off the backyard hill in 'years', Manship's backyard bullpen sessions helped provide the foundation for a productive Stanford career as he has developed into one of the top relievers in the Pac-10 this season.
Manship made an immediate impact with the Cardinal as a freshman in 2003, posting a 4-2 record and a 3.98 ERA while saving a team-high nine games that ranked second in the Pac-10 and tied for fourth on Stanford's all-time single-season list. His 25 appearances were fourth on the club, while his 63.1 innings ranked fourth.
He moved into a role as the team's No. 2 starter at the beginning of his sophomore season -- for one whole week. After a tough start in his first outing versus Cal State Fullerton, he was quickly demoted to the bullpen, where he ended up pitching in fewer games (21) and throwing just over half as many innings (34.1) as he did in his freshman campaign.
Manship seemed to fall even further in the pecking order at the beginning of this season, not appearing until the team's ninth game and taking the mound only once in club's first 14 contests.
'That was the low point,' admitted Manship about the beginning of this season. 'It seemed like I was pretty much out of the mix, but I knew it was a long season and I would get my chance if I stayed after it.'
Manship knew he was part of a Stanford of a talented pitching staff that doesn't take long to drop from near the top of the list to the bottom.
'It's a humbling system, but we all know how it works,' confirms Manship. 'One minute, you're as high as a kite and the next you're back down at the bottom. There is so much competition within the staff that it makes you work as hard as you can to get ahead. But, that makes everyone try to play at the top of their game, which helps us succeed as a team.'
According to Manship, the key to getting back in the mix was backing up good outings and he did exactly that when he finally got his chance this season.
Manship has yet to allow an earned run in 11.1 innings of work and allowed a miniscule .154 opponents' batting average in nine appearances this season, with five coming in the team's last eight contests. He also has a 2-0 record and a save to show for his good work, closing out a crucial 4-3 win over Oregon State last Sunday to help the Cardinal avoid being swept at home for the first time since 1997.
Although his dad no longer catches those backyard bullpens, he does still offer advice that has been helpful throughout his collegiate career.
'Most of his advice has been more mental,' acknowledges Manship. 'He just tells me to stay after it no matter what happens, because it's a long few years (in college) and you can't let one incident here or there affect you for your entire career.'
What has affected him his entire career is those backyard pitching sessions. Manship claims he can still see traces of the old plate and rubber when he mows the lawn. Even if the grass covers it all up one day, there will still be the memories. Just watch his dog trying to get through the fence.
by Kyle McRae