Trey Mancini would have spent a portion of the All-Star Game media session this week tallying how many people he had to thank for assisting in his climb to established major league hitter. So many of them, whether within his own family or the baseball community.
Though he’s home for the break, he’s still able to express his gratitude without making the trip to Progressive Field in Cleveland. And I’ve found that he isn’t alone in his appreciation of Orioles minor league hitting coordinator Jeff Manto.
Manto, who played 89 games with the Orioles in 1995, is in his sixth year in his current role. One of the important behind-the-scenes guys in the organization, with his work done away from the major league spotlight.
You might have to dig a little to recognize his contributions.
“I love Mick,” said Mancini, using the nickname without knowing the origin.
The four home runs in four consecutive at-bats with the Orioles and former ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann calling him “Mickey Manto” can leave a player with a catchy nickname.
“He’s a great dude,” Mancini said. “I worked with him a lot in spring training and during the season he’d come to our teams a lot, so he definitely helped me out in my development. He did a good job of coming up with specific plans for guys. He’d get to know you pretty well and he’d develop a plan for you and certain drills that he would like for you to do in the cage.
“I thought he did a really good job, because it isn’t easy to be a hitting coordinator for that many. That’s covering a lot of dudes in the minors, but he does a really good job and knows everybody on a personal level really well. He’s done a great job.”
Manto became the 24th player in major league history to hit four home runs in four at-bats, and only the second to do it in three games, along with the Yankees’ Johnny Blanchard in 1961. Manto also walked twice during the streak.
A fly ball to Angels center fielder Jim Edmonds denied Manto of exclusive rights to the record.
“It would have been kind of nice,” Manto said after the game. “Now I’m back to reality.”
“Just don’t wake him up,” said pitcher Ben McDonald. “Don’t anybody bother him. Stay away from him and let him keep doing what he’s doing.”
It didn’t last and Manto resumed his journeyman’s career, with the Yomiuri Giants purchasing his contract the following January. He played for eight major league clubs, with multiple stints with the Red Sox and Indians over nine years.
Current players in the organization probably don’t know that Manto became the Orioles’ starting third baseman, taking the job from Leo Gomez. Or much else about him as a player.
How he’s a member of eight halls of fame: Bristol High School, Bucks County (Pa.), Temple University, Pennsylvania Sports, Buffalo Bison, Rochester Red Wings, Greater Buffalo and International League.
How the Bisons retired his No. 30. How he played on three World Series teams: the 1993 Phillies, 1997 Indians and 1999 Yankees.
It’s more about Manto the instructor and friend.
“He’s a good guy, we have a good relationship,” said catcher Chance Sisco. “He’s always been there if I ever needed him.”
“I have spent a whole lot of time working with Mick, going back to Aberdeen my first year after I signed in 2014,” said infielder Stevie Wilkerson. “I’ve been to instructional league with him every year, I’ve worked with him very often and I have nothing but good things to say about Mick. He helped me a lot.
“I haven’t had great years every year in the minor leagues, but even the years that I was struggling a little bit he was always there to give me any kind of support. Whether it’s swing adjustment or the mental side, the approach side, or maybe just shutting it down and having a talk man to man. He’s got a lot of diversity in that sense and I’ve really enjoyed these past five years working with him.”
Rarely does a player climb each rung of the minor league ladder without picking up a few amusing anecdotes along the way. Mancini has a favorite involving Manto.
“What I might remember most about him, I was in Delmarva and we were getting beat like 10-1 by Hickory and the first batter, my friend Jeff Kemp, comes up and pops out foul to the first baseman,” Mancini said. “My other friend, Drew Dosch, is hitting in front of me and he pops out to the pitcher, so there’s two pitches. I’m coming up third in the inning.
“Normally, it’s a baseball rule that you just don’t swing at the first pitch after that. I come up and this guy is throwing like 86 mph. I’m like, I know he’s throwing a fastball down the middle. I’m going to try to take him yard. I jammed myself and hit like a little dinky foul ball down the first base line. The dude didn’t catch it. He almost caught it. I ended up getting out on the next pitch and (Manto) came in, brought the three of us together and sat us down just like a dad lecturing his sons.
“He goes, ‘That is the worst display of hitting that I have ever seen in baseball, much less at the professional level.’ So that stayed with me for a long time and I know now every time if I’m up second in an inning and the guy in front of me gets out on the first pitch, I’m usually pretty cautious about swinging. I know if I come up third and there’s two pitches or even three pitches, I’m not swinging at the first pitch. I’ll never forget that.
“I probably should have known it by then, but that really resonated with me because it was a pretty embarrassing display of hitting there and he let us know about it. So he can be blunt when he needs to like that. But yeah, I’ve always enjoyed working with him and obviously I haven’t gotten to work with him as much since I got called up in 2016, but whenever I see him it’s just like old times and he’s always done a great job.”
McKenna, 22, batted .346 (9-for-26) with two doubles, three home runs, eight RBIs, seven runs scored, three walks, two stolen bases and a .769 slugging percentage in seven games last week.
McKenna reached base at least once in five of the seven games and had four multi-hit games, including going 2-for-4 with a pair of solo home runs in a 6-2 win at Hartford.
Reyes, 22, slashed .500/.522/.682 in six games. He went 11-for-22 with a double, home run, five RBIs and two runs scored.