Don’t worry about a thing, ‘Cause every little thing gonna be all right. Words from a Bob Marley song and words that Indiana State junior pitcher Sean Manaea tries to live by.
“I pretty much live my life like that,” Manaea said. “I don’t worry too much about anything. I just try to live in the present. Everything’s going to work out.”
Perhaps it’s this philosophy that keeps Manaea, who is in the discussion to be the No. 1 pick overall in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, grounded and focused. Manaea seems unfazed by his emergence in the collegiate baseball world and the increased attention by MLB scouts and the national media. In fact, Manaea even used the word “chillax” in an interview with ESPN.com earlier in the season.
“Sean is a fun kid, a happy-go-lucky kid, everybody enjoys being around him,” Indiana State baseball coach Rick Heller said. “He’s handled all of the attention extremely well in my opinion, because it’s really not his personality. He doesn’t welcome it because he is humble. He’s done a really good job of being able to block it out and just go out and perform which is really not easy to do.”
Even during games in the fall, there were as many as 40 MLB scouts out to see Manaea pitch. At the Metrodome in mid-March, where the Sycamores took two of three from the Minnesota Gophers, 100 scouts were in attendance.
“It’s a very difficult thing when you’re trying to warm up for a game and there are 50 scouts filming you or holding radar guns up just in your warm up session,” Heller said. “He’s had to work at it and I’m pretty proud of him that he has been mentally tough enough to deal with it in a positive way.”
That mental toughness, however, didn’t come naturally to Manaea but his athletic ability did. The son of hard-working parents, a Samoan father who served in Vietnam, and an American mother, Manaea grew up in Wanatah, Indiana. He began playing baseball at a pretty early age.
“Age five or six is when I started playing baseball,” Manaea said. “My dad wanted me to play a sport or something so he put me in Little League. Ever since I stepped on the mound, I’ve loved the game and that’s pretty much why I play. I’ve loved it ever since I started.”
It’s true that Manaea has always loved baseball, but he wasn’t always willing to work hard for it. Like every other young boy out there, Manaea liked being outside and doing things like skateboarding, roller blading and riding scooters. He even disregarded baseball for a little bit to focus on skateboarding but once he got out of that phase, it was back to baseball. Manaea admits, though, that during high school, he relied a lot on his natural ability and not his work ethic.
“I wasn’t as motivated in high school as I am now,” he said “I wouldn’t work out. I would run a little bit after games and maybe do some shoulder stuff but I was lazy and would just go home and play video games. I was really lazy back in high school but I still had that drive that every time I went out and pitched I wanted to do my best.”
Manaea did enough to grab the attention of many college coaches but it was Indiana State that really took notice. The Sycamore baseball program was going through a coaching transition and the recruiting of Manaea was during the hiring of Rick Heller. Luckily, ISU assistant coaches Tyler Herbst and Brian Smiley continued the evaluation process of Manaea.
“It’s just a lot of fun being with your best friends, going to school, seeing them everyday and playing the game you love.” — Sean Manaea
“There were a lot of coaches looking at Sean for sure,” Coach Heller said. “Thank goodness Coach Herbst and Coach Smiley kept working because if they hadn’t we wouldn’t have gotten Sean. I think everybody that saw Sean liked him – a big, 6-5 left-handed pitcher. The thing that you had to make a decision on was if Sean was capable of making changes to be able to throw more strikes and be more consistent and all of those things. We felt like he was able to do that and that’s why we chose to go hard for him.”
Indiana State was Manaea’s only Division I scholarship offer and it didn’t take long for him to decide he wanted to be a Sycamore.
“When I took my visit here, I met all of the coaches and they took me around campus and showed me the facilities and stuff and I just had a great time,” Manaea said. “I thought campus life was awesome. Definitely made my choice after that and I have had a great time here ever since.”
It became apparent to Manaea rather quickly though that if he were going to be successful at this level, he was going to have to make some changes.
“The first time I went out and pitched against everyone in our intra-squad game in the fall, I wasn’t doing so hot and all of the hitters, they just rocked me,” Manaea said. “I realized that I had to work harder than I had been. It also helped a lot that the coaches had a set plan for everyone and a workout regimen.”
So that fall, the baseball coaches began working on their project that was Manaea. The first thing was getting his body in shape and getting his body stronger. He hadn’t had a lot of experience in strength training and from his first day at Indiana State in late August until Christmas break, he worked hard in the weight room and made big changes to his body. Because of this dedication and hard work, his core became stronger and he was able to repeat his delivery much easier.
“He’s changed so much and most of the credit goes to him because he was willing to make the changes and had an open mind and did what you asked him to do,” Heller said.
Herbst, ISU’s pitching coach, also worked with Manaea in the off-season to clean up his mechanics. They spent a lot of time in the dance studios in front of the mirrors so Manaea could see himself on a daily basis. It’s something Herbst does with most of the ISU pitchers but Manaea really made a commitment to it and coupled with his individual work in the off-season, it’s really paid dividends.
But it wasn’t just physical improvement that Manaea needed. He needed to work on the mental part of the game as well.
“The mental side, number one, Sean made a commitment to be a good student and do a good job in the classroom and he’s done that,” Heller said. “Each year has been a positive progression with his mental toughness and believing in himself.”
Manaea had shown so much promise and improvement after his first two seasons that he was invited to compete in the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer. The CCBL is the premier collegiate summer baseball league where many future Major League Baseball players competed during their college years. Manaea took full advantage of the opportunity. Playing for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks, Manaea went 5-1 in eight starts with a 1.22 ERA and a league-leading 85 strikeouts and he garnered all sorts of accolades. Manaea claimed the B.F.C Whitehouse Top Pitcher and the Robert A. McNeese Outstanding Pro Prospect awards. He also earned Summer National Player of the Year honors by Perfect Game USA and was named the Cape Cod League’s top prospect by Baseball America.
“It was definitely the greatest experience of my baseball career,” Manaea said. “Being that far away from home and knowing that you are one of the few people that is chosen to play in this league, it blows my mind every time I think about it. I felt like every time I went out there, I was having a lot of fun and the success I had against that great of competition from all over the country, it helped my confidence a lot. Knowing the history that is the Cape Cod League and seeing all of the great players that have been through the league, I will definitely remember it for the rest of my life.”
Manaea considers his experiences at Indiana State very valuable as well, on and off the field. In 2012, he ranked 13th in the country in strikeouts and helped the Sycamores claim its first outright regular-season MVC Championship on his way to All-MVC Second Team honors. Manaea was selected to a trio of preseason All-America teams heading into the 2013 season, as Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball Newspaper and Perfect Game all selected the Indiana State southpaw as a First Team All-American and he is enjoying another solid season. The level of his game has soared and he credits the Sycamore coaches for his development, especially with the mental side of the game.
“I feel like the coaches in minor league baseball are there to make you better with the mechanics but the coaches here really worked on my mental side of the game,” Manaea said. “My mental side of the game is a lot better and if I didn’t have that experience, there’s no way I could survive in professional baseball.
Manaea also feels he has established lifelong friendships at ISU.
“It has been just awesome to have these experiences here, making friendships and connections and getting an education, which is definitely a big part of it,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun being with your best friends, going to school, seeing them everyday and playing the game you love. I really don’t take that for granted because I know one day it’s going to end.”
From a humble beginning to a future so bright, the next chapter of Manaea’s life will begin in June following the 2013 MLB Draft.
“I feel like every little baseball player has a dream of making it to the majors,” Manaea said. “I still have that dream and hopefully one day I will make it to the majors. I’ve been using that dream to push myself and make myself better every year and every time I go out and pitch.”
Tina Dechausay is the director of new media for ISU Athletics. The sweet laughter of her children makes Tina happy.