New Orioles minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Manto said he is excited to start his new position with the team. He returns to the organization where he had his best big league season and to work for one of his former minor league managers and a mentor.
The 49-year-old Manto batted just 713 times over parts of nine big league seasons, but 254 of those at-bats came during his 1995 year with the Orioles when he hit .256 with 17 homers and 38 RBIs over 89 games. He tied a major league record in June of that year when he homered in four consecutive at-bats.
But what he most remembers about his one year wearing the Orange and Black was being on the team during one of the best moments in baseball history. That was on Sept. 6, 1995 when Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak.
"It was probably as surreal as any moment I've ever been a part of," Manto remembered this week. "It was like Christmas Eve every day for five months and then like Christmas morning when Cal broke the record. It seemed like time stood still and it was unbelievable.
"One of the most impressive things was how Cal handled it all. Through it all, he respected his teammates, the fans and the children especially. He signed everything they put in front of him. It was a magic moment that I'll never forget."
Manto said he'll spend time this winter looking at video and reading scouting reports on some Orioles minor league batters. He looks forward to working closely with the players and also the individual affiliate hitting coaches next season.
"We will work together," he said. "I am not walking in for a second like I have it all figured out and I don't want these guys to think I know everything. I want to lend a hand and lend support.
"We have a lot of good hitting coaches in place. By no means will I go in and try to do it my way type of thing. We'll do it the Orioles way so the big league team can win."
Manto now will work closely again with Orioles director of player development Brian Graham, who hired Manto for a similar position with Pittsburgh in 2003. That all led to Manto later getting big league hitting coach positions with the Pirates in 2006-07 and the Chicago White Sox the last two years.
Graham credits Manto with helping several Pirates hitters as they came through the minors including Andrew McCuthchen.
Manto credits Graham with helping rejuvenate his career as a player. He played for the 1997 Triple-A Buffalo team that Graham managed.
"We hit it off so well (in '97)," Manto said. "I was at a point in my career where I needed some guidance and Brian was there. He revived my career and probably added another three years to my career.
"He let me play. He understood I was a veteran guy that needed to play. He made excuses for me to play and made time for me to play. He always fought for his players. It is weird to explain to you, but the bottom line is he had a ton of respect for a lot of us and he is a guy you want to work for, that is for sure.
"If it wasn't for him I would not have had the opportunity to play in two World Series. I would not have been able to coach in the big leagues for the Pirates. It's been a great relationship."
Orioles thought for the day: While we spend a lot of time here discussing the Orioles' shortcomings - and that is fine and is what these blogs are for - we also should keep in mind that some things are going well in Birdland.
Last night, the Orioles led the majors by winning three Silver Slugger Awards as Chris Davis, Adam Jones and J.J. Hardy took home the hardware.
Earlier the Orioles led the majors with six nominees for Gold Glove Awards and they tied with Kansas City for the American League lead winning three.
The Orioles became the first AL team since the 2002-03 Seattle Mariners to win at least three Gold Gloves in consecutive seasons. Before this year the last time an Orioles team won three or more Gold Gloves in back-to-back years was 1975-76.
Chris Davis is an AL MVP finalist and only three teams have one of those.
If you average the wins the last two years by AL East teams, Tampa Bay leads at 91 followed by New York with 90, the Orioles at 89, Boston at 83 and Toronto at 73.5.
The talk here by a few readers that the O's are not contenders or need to consider some rebuilding moves are unfounded. This is a good team as its currently constructed with a very solid core of position players.
They need to pitch better and some improvement could come from the current staff and maybe some will come with other moves.
The Orioles are not a perfect team and have some work to do this winter. But as we look at the Gold Gloves, the Silver Sluggers and the MVP finalists, maybe we should not forget that there are some things to like about this team.