Monday, October 20, 2014

Interview Part 2: Austin Manahan, Difficult Start

The former Jamestown Municipal Stadium in 2014. Austin Manahan played at Jamestown for visiting Welland in 1989. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: His Shot | Part 2: Difficult Start
Part 3: Tuesday Evening

Austin Manahan wasn't feeling well that day, so when the phone rang, the high schooler was slow to respond.

The call came with big news: Manahan had been drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, taken 13th overall. The news was delivered by Pirates scout Angel Figueroa.

"I was groggy, I had just woke up," Manahan recalled recently of that call. "He was a little shocked because he thought I'd be excited."

Manahan was excited, he explained, it was just that he wasn't feeling that well. Figueroa was over later that afternoon, Manahan signed and the young infielder was off to Pirates camp in Florida.

As it turned out, though, what excitement Manahan had soon evaporated in the heat of professional baseball. The 18-year-old took the field in rookie ball and the all that confidence and skill he'd shown on his Arizona high school diamond was gone.
Part of the Jamestown infield in 2014. Austin Manahan played shortstop at Jamestown in 1989 with visiting Welland. (G21D Photo)
What was left was a first-round pick who played 64 games and couldn't even hit .200.

"Well, it was horrible," Manahan said frankly of his transition from high school to the pros. "Here you are, you're a first-round pick, you hit .526 (in high school), you're playing twice a week - I had no clue.

"I think I thought it was going to be easier playing every day and physically, mentally, it was very difficult," Manahan added. "I'm not so sure my body was meant to play every day."

Manahan had played in eight professional seasons for four different organizations. His stops included Welland, Augusta, Carolina and Orlando. He never made it above AA.

Manahan spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his Arizona home, where he now works as a real estate agent.

Manahan told of catching the eye of scouts during his senior year in high school, his selection in the first round and then his immediate troubles with the daily rigors of minor league baseball.

And those troubles never really went away.

The former Community Park in St. Catharines, Ont. Austin Manahan played at Community in 1989 with visiting Welland. (G21D Photo)
Manahan played his first year at rookie Princeton. In those 64 games, Manahan hit six home runs and knocked in 34. His final average came in at .181.

He recalled dealing with the wooden bat of the pros, the hard throwers in the pros. He didn't have a good grasp of much of the things he needed to have a grasp of to be successful, he recalled.

He had no real approach in the batters box, he recalled.

"I didn't even do a good job of picking the ball up out of the pitcher's hand," Manahan said. "I mean, these are basic things."

All through that, he was also the guy everyone was looking at.

"I was trying to be a superstar," Manahan said, "because I was a first-round pick. And, again, the fundamentals weren't there. I was trying too hard."

"I was out there just really raw and over-swinging," Manahan said. "And I was just throwing the ball every which direction, making throwing errors left and right. It was just a nightmare, really."

Manahan's struggles continued in 1989 at Princeton and at short-season Welland. In 69 games between them he hit .219. He hit four home runs with 24 RBI.

He then played 1990 between single-A Augusta and high-A Salem. He also actually had a good year. He hit .302 in 94 games at Augusta and .279 in 41 games at Salem.
McDonough Park in Geneva, NY, in 2014. Austin Manahan played at Geneva with visiting Welland in 1989. (G21D Photo)
It would have been an even better year, Manahan recalled, if he didn't go into a prolonged 12-game slump to end his time at Augusta.

He had three or four four-hit games and even a five hit game, he recalled. He also seemed to be able to fight to get a base hit that year, he said, but mostly early in the season. That was before his legs got tired.

His overall good season got him thinking again about moving up, he recalled. He'd had a rough time his first two years. This third year, though, seemed different.

But there was also reality, he said.

"Really, ultimately, when I was going good, I didn't know why," Manahan said. "When I was in a slump, I was still in a slump.

"Yeah, the season was better," he added, "but I really didn't have a clue what I was doing out there."

It also came at a cost, Manahan recalled. "That took a lot out of me," Manahan said.

After that season, Manahan continued playing in winter ball, sent by the Pirates to play ball in Australia. But he couldn't keep up that season he had, either in Australia or in 1991 back in the minors. (Part 3 Coming Tuesday)


Part 1: His Shot | Part 2: Difficult Start
Part 3: Tuesday Evening

Watch for Part 3 Coming Tuesday Evening

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Interview Part 1: Austin Manahan, His Shot

Welland Stadium in Welland, Ont., in 2014. Austin Manahan played for short-season Welland in 1989. (G21D Photo)
Part 1: His Shot | Part 2: Difficult Start
Part 3: Tuesday Evening

Austin Manahan had gotten word that he might go high in the draft, but he didn't think he'd go that high.

The Arizona high school product had been planning to go to Arizona State and play ball there. But those plans changed and they changed as quick as 13 names could be called.

Manahan was a first-round pick, taken 13th overall by the Pirates. Only 12 players in the country were taken ahead of him.

"Fifth or sixth round might have been more of a 'Oh, boy, what do I do?'" Manahan recalled to The Greatest 21 Days recently, "But, first round, no, I was going."

At 18 years old, Manahan quickly signed and he was on his way to his career in professional baseball.

It was a career that ultimately ended in disappointment, Manahan never living up to the expectations of that high selection. He never made the majors.

"Hindsight's 20/20," Manahan said, "but at that point there was no choice for me. I figured I was a first-round draft pick, you get a good shot at it and I did."

Manahan spoke to The Greatest 21 Days recently by phone from his Arizona home, where he now works as a real estate agent.
Austin Manahan played in the New York-Penn League in 1989 for the Welland Pirates. (G21D Photo)
Manahan told of catching the eye of scouts during his senior year in high school and then his selection in the first round. But his career didn't start off as he or the Pirates had hoped.

Manahan recalled how he had trouble with the daily rigors of minor league baseball from the start. He'd start seasons fresh, but soon found himself drained and fighting to stay on the field.

By the time his career was done, Manahan had played in eight professional seasons for four different organizations. His stops included Welland, Augusta, Carolina and Orlando. He never made it above AA.

Manahan was born in Kansas City, the son of an airline pilot. He started playing baseball around the age of 5 or 6. His first time in organized ball came at age 7. His older brother Tony also played.

"We didn't do much besides baseball," Manahan recalled. "Summer came along and it was baseball time."

When Manahan was about 10 years old, he and his family moved to Arizona. Manahan recalled one of the reasons for the move was so Manahan and his brother could play ball longer.
As he played, though, Manahan recalled never really being the best player on his teams. His brother, he recalled, was always better. Other kids were better, too.

But Manahan was good, too.
The former Jamestown Municipal Stadium in 2014. Austin Manahan played at Jamestown in 1989 for visiting Welland. (G21D Photo)
In his freshman year at Horizon High School in Scottsdale, Manahan got to play with the varsity team. He also found himself in over his head, unsure if he could ever catch up to pitchers at that level.

Over the next couple years, though, he started to catch up to those pitchers. He also started to catch the eye of scouts there to see other players, including his brother.

In one fall ball game, Manahan recalled impressing the scouts by hitting a couple long home runs.

"They kind of had their eye on me because I was a little bit faster than my brother and my arm was a little bit better," Manahan said.

When the high school season started, Manahan continued hitting well. He also played well at shortstop. Pretty much from then on, though, the scouts were at all his games, he recalled.

Manahan also gave them something to watch. He hit .526.

"I just kind of got on track that year and I was healthy," Manahan said.

Manahan's brother Tony got drafted out of Horizon a year before Manahan, taken in the 32nd round by the Astros. Tony, though, chose to go to Arizona State. Another team looking at Tony was the Cubs.
Arbour Memorial Stadium in Hamilton, Ont., in 2014. Austin Manahan played at Arbour in 1989 for visiting Welland. (G21D Photo)
The night before Manahan was drafted, his brother called from Omaha, where Arizona State was playing in the College World Series. Tony had heard that the Cubs were interested in Austin. They were interested in him in the second round.

The Cubs scout had seen Manahan earlier that year. He hit a leadoff home run. His team then batted around and he hit a second home run in the same inning.

"I thought, 'Wow, I'm going to have to think about playing professional baseball instead of going to ASU,'" Manahan recalled of hearing the second-round prediction, "because I really wanted to go to ASU."

Then his decision was seemingly made for him and it was made by the Pirates and their first-round pick.

A few weeks before the draft, Manahan recalled, the Pirates came by to give him a closer look. Manahan's high school coach threw him batting practice and Manahan hit off him using a wooden bat.

"I had one of those days where it kid of seemed like every other ball I hit over the fence," Manahan said. "Of course, I was fresh, my legs were fresh, my arm was fresh."

"They probably thought, 'Holy cow, look at this guy,'" Manahan said.

The key word there, though, was fresh. Manahan would soon find out the daily grind of professional baseball was just that, a grind. It also wasn't at all what he had hoped. (Go to Part 2)

Part 1: His Shot | Part 2: Difficult Start
Part 3: Tuesday Evening

Go to Part 2: Austin Manahan, Difficult Start

Willie Mota, Big Day - 2297

Willie Mota had a big day on in this April 1992 contest with Fort Myers, according to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Mota picked up three hits and three RBI. Helping those numbers was a fourth-inning home run, The Herald-Tribune wrote.

Mota had that day in his fifth season as a pro. He made AA for the first time the next season. He never got higher.

Mota's career began in 1988, signed by the Twins as a amateur free agent out of his native Venezuela.

Mota started with the Twins at rookie Elizabethton. In 34 games, the third baseman hit .271.

Mota played 1989 between Elizabethton and the rookie Gulf Coast League. Mota also turned catcher. He hit .308 on the year.

For 1990, Mota moved to single-A Kenosha. His average dropped to .181. He then returned to Kenosha in 1991, hitting .279. He knocked in two runs on a June double against Madison.

Mota arrived at high-A Fort Myers in 1992. In 106 games, he hit .273, with four home runs. He then split 1993 between Fort Myers and AA Nashville.

He hit .234 that season, including a game-tying single for Nashville in May. But it was his final season as a pro.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,779
Made the Majors: 836 - 47.0%
Never Made Majors: 943-53.0%-X
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 360
10+ Seasons in the Minors:212

Jose Castro, Unbelievable - 287

Read the October 2014 interview: Jose Castro, The Maximum

Originally published Jan, 24, 2011
Jose Castro didn't start playing baseball until he was 13, he told The Chicago Tribune as spring 1985 wound down. That was seven years after he and his family came to the United States on a boat, fleeing Cuba.

"Ever since then," Castro told The Tribune of the time he started playing the game, "it's been my dream. I used to go to the stadium in Miami to watch the Orioles. Tonight, I get to go on the same field and play against them. Unbelievable.

"My dad is more excited even than I am," Castro told The Tribune. "It was hard on him and my mom, starting a new life in the States, not knowing the language. But if we hadn't left Cuba, I would never have this chance. I would never have met my wife, an American girl. I would never have done a lot of things."

Castro spoke to The Tribune, one of the candidates for the White Sox' final roster spots. Castro didn't make it that year. He didn't make it in any of his 14 minor league seasons. But he did make it, years later, in one brief stint as hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners.

Castro's career began in 1977, selected by the Phillies in the 27th round out of high school. He played that year at short-season Auburn, the next at single-A Spartanburg. At Spartanburg, Castro hit .280 with nine home runs.

His fifth home run came in a June game, a three-run shot. He also had a two-run double. He only had one home run in his first campaign, The Spartanburg Herald-Journal noted.

"I've been waiting more on the pitch and holding my hands back a little. I've got some power in me," Castro, then 5-feet, 9-inches and 155 pounds, told The Herald-Journal laughing, "but with my size, I've just got to hit it right."

The next year, Castro got his first look at AA, at Reading. He had three hits and three RBIs in one August 1980 game for Reading.

In 1981, Castro got his first look at AAA, at Oklahoma City, hitting his ninth of 11 home runs in a July game. Through five different organizations, Castro would stay at AAA the rest of his playing career, amounting to 10 seasons at the doorstep to the majors.

He hit a two-run single in a June 1982 game for he White Sox' Edmonton AAA team. In an August 1983 game, Castro hit two home runs for the White Sox' Denver AAA team.

In 1984, Castro made the All-Star team with Denver, hitting .316 with 12 home runs. The next spring, he made it to the end of camp with a shot to make the White Sox roster, The Tribune wrote. But he didn't make it.

There was even talk May 17 that Castro would be brought up, if infielder Julio Cruz went on the DL, The Tribune wrote. Cruz didn't return until June 4. But Castro never got the call.

Instead, it was back to the White Sox' AAA team, then in Buffalo. Castro's numbers dropped that year at Buffalo. He hit just .240 with eight home runs. It was his last of four seasons with the White Sox system. He went on to spent two seasons at AAA for the Blue Jays, then two more at AAA for the Royals.

For 1990, the 32-year-old signed on with the Expos, playing at AAA Indianapolis. Castro played 19 games before being released in May.

"I've played this game for 14 years," Castro told friend Steve Fireovid after his release, according to Fireovid's diary of that season The 26th Man. "I always knew someday it'd be over. I guess that's today."

That's when Castro's next career started. Castro was given the option to coach the Expos' rookie league team in West Palm Beach, Fireovid wrote. He went on coach AA Portland in 1994, AAA Ottawa in 2002 and, in 2008, serve as hitting coach for the Seattle Mariners.

In 2010, Castro served as manager for the Mariner's AAA club in Tacoma, gauging how long other players might be away from the majors.

"(Dustin) Ackley is a true professional, in all the meaning of that word," Castro told The Seattle Times of the Mariners' prospect. "He comes to the park, prepares himself — and the boy can hit. He's going to be a good one at the major-league level."

Read the October 2014 interview: Jose Castro, The Maximum 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Rich Bordi, Future Plans - 4

Rich Bordi's first stint with the Mariners in 1982 started rocky. He gave up eight earned, while getting only two outs.

Speaking to The Deseret News later, Bordi believed he knew what was wrong: His family was there and he gave the big league hitters too much credit.

"I tried to be too fine with my pitches," Bordi explained to The News after returning to AAA Salt Lake City. "But then I came out of the bullpen twice against the Angels and I was happy with my work. I started feeling good and Seattle knew it. I think I am in their plans somewhere in the future."

Bordi ended up having a future in the majors, just with other teams. He went on to pitch in six more major league seasons, spending time with the Cubs, Yankees, Orioles and Athletics before finally throwing his last big league pitch in 1988.

Bordi's career began in 1980, taken by the Athletics in the third round of the 1980 draft out of Fresno State University.

Bordi began with the Athletics at AA West Haven. He also made the unusually quick jump directly to Oakland in July. He got into a single game July 16, giving up one run in two innings of work. He played the rest of the year at AA.

Bordi then pitched most of 1981 at AAA Tacoma, getting another look at Oakland. He got into two major league games, giving up no runs in two innings.

For 1982, Bordi moved to the Mariners in a trade. He got into seven games, starting two. He ended with a 8.31 ERA.

Bordi was traded again for 1983, this time to the Cubs. He got 11 outings, one start that year and then 31 outings, seven starts, ending with a 3.46 ERA. He also helped the Cubs win the division in 1984.

Bordi, though, didn't make the team's post-season roster. The day he learned that, according to The Associated Press, Bordi came on in relief and picked up the loss. He gave up three earned in a single inning of work.

"It's an all-around bad day," Bordi told The AP. "I just should have called in sick."

Bordi moved to the Yankees for 1985, then the Orioles for 1986. In each of those seasons, the reliever topped 50 outings. He returned to the Yankees for 16 outings in 1987 and then to Oakland for two final major league outings in 1988.

Bordi finished out his professional career with time in two more AAA seasons. His big league career ended with 173 total major league outings, 17 starts. His career ERA was 4.34.

Bordi has since continued in the game, spending at least a decade as a scout. In 2008, he made the papers for a different sport, fishing. That summer, he hauled in a 75-pound salmon in Alaska.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,778
Made the Majors: 836 - 47.0%-X
Never Made Majors: 942-53.0%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 360
10+ Seasons in the Minors:212

Carlos Pulido, Got Back - 2293

Carlos Pulido had been to the majors before. He was just happy to return this time, he told reporters.

"I was having a great year in Triple-A," Pulido said, according to ESPN.com. "I knew if something would happen, I'd be back."

What made Pulido's return noteworthy was exactly how long it had been since his first look at the bigs.

For Pulido, it had been nearly a decade since he last stepped foot in a big league clubhouse, just over nine years to be exact.

Pulido made his return in August 2003. He'd last been to the majors in August 1994, pitching for the Twins just before the strike. In between, he played in the minors, Japan and Mexico. Then, finally, he played again in Minnesota.

Pulido's career began in 1989, signed by the Twins as a free agent out of his native Venezuela.

Pulido started with the Twins in the rookie Gulf Coast League. He moved to single-A Kenosha in 1990, then high-A Visalia in 1991.

Pulido got his first regular time at AA in 1992 at Orlando. Used mostly as a reliever to that point, Pulido picked up a win in his first start of the year that August. He hit AAA Portland in 1993.

Then, in 1994, he made Minnesota. He stayed in the majors the entire shortened season, getting into 19 games and starting 14 of them. He went 3-7, with a 5.98 ERA.

In May 1994, Pulido picked up his first big league win by going eight innings against the Royals, according to The Associated Press.

"He was throwing the fastball in and the screwball away," Pulido's catcher that game Derek Parks told The AP afterward. "Basically it was all fastball and screwball. He was strong. He was still strong in the eighth inning "

Pulido then started working to get back. He played 1995 back at AAA for the Twins, then 1996 between AA and AAA for the Cubs.

He then went through the Expos and Mets systems before arriving in independent ball. It was in 2000 that Paulido made it to Japan.

Playing for Orix that year, Pulido got into 42 games, starting 13. He went 7-4, with a 5.26 ERA. He then returned for 11 more outings with Orix in 2001.

After as season in Mexico, Pulido returned to the Twins system for 2003. In 25 starts at Rochester that year, he went 12-5, with a 3.56 ERA.

Called up to the Twins that August, Pulido got into seven games, starting one. He gave up seven earned in 15.2 innings. He then rounded out his major league career with six more relief appearances in 2004.

He played two more seasons in Mexico, ending his playing career. He then is credited with serving as pitching coach in 2007 at short-season Spokane.
1990 CMC-Pro Cards Tally
Players/Coaches Featured:1,777
Made the Majors: 835 - 47.0%-X
Never Made Majors: 942-53.0%
5+ Seasons in the Majors: 360
10+ Seasons in the Minors:212

Dale Mohorcic, Quietly Done - 298

Originally published May 14, 2012
Dale Mohorcic didn't think anybody would confuse him with the game's top closers. But, in a three-month stretch in July 1987, he might have been.

From May to July that year, Mohorcic picked up 11 saves, along with five wins for the Rangers. He also posted a 1.66 ERA, according to The Associated Press.

"I don't think I'm a main stopper that everybody recognizes," Mohorcic told The AP in late July. "I just do it quietly, nothing spectacular."

Mohorcic never did really take his place as a top closer. But he did put together a career that spanned five big league seasons, getting over 50 appearances in three of those years.

Mohorcic first made the majors in 1986, his ninth season in pro ball. He first played professionally in 1978, for independent Victoria of the Northwest League. A 6-5 record in 12 starts got Mohorcic a contract with the Blue Jays.

With Toronto, Mohorcic pitched at single-A Dunedin. He went 4-7 with a 4.42 ERA there, and then got his release. Signing with the Pirates for 1980, Mohorcic played the next five seasons with them. He first hit AAA in 1981, at Portland, getting back to AAA for parts of 1983 and 1984 at Hawaii.

Granted free agency for 1985, Mohorcic didn't sign with a team until that May, signing with the Rangers. He played that year at AAA Oklahoma City. The next year, he made Texas.

Mohorcic debuted with the Rangers May 31, going on to get into 58 contests for Texas, posting an ERA of 2.51. He became such a regular for the Rangers that in August, he ran off a string of 13-straight relief appearances, tying the record.

"I'll take it," Mohorcic told The AP of tying the record. "It's something only one other guy has done, so that's something."

With durability like that, Mohorcic earned the nickname "Horse." And he continued that durability in 1987, getting into 74 games. His ERA also stayed under 3, at 2.99, and picked up 16 total saves.

By 1988, though, Mohorcic's relationship with the Rangers had soured, according to The New York Times, with Mohorcic becoming a "forgotten relief pitcher." Then came a trade to the Yankees for September.

''Just being in this uniform makes me feel like a better player,'' Mohorcic told The Times. ''I want to come to the park and play. In Texas, I was down all the time.''

With the Rangers that year, Mohorcic got into 43 games, picking up two wins to six losses. His ERA also increased to 4.85. With the Yankees, Mohorcic got into 13 games, with a 2.78 ERA.

Mohorcic played in two more seasons, getting into 32 games with the Yankees in 1989 and 34 with the Expos in 1990, ending his career.
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