Hank Manning considered becoming an engineer, but chose to develop baseball players instead of designing materials or structures.
Manning, a star catcher at Rutherford High School in the 1980s and a math major at Pace University, was preparing for life after baseball when a chance meeting became a life-changing encounter.
Helping out a friend, Manning was coaching a North Arlington Babe Ruth team in the summer of 1990. As it played a tournament in Syracuse, N.Y., Manning was approached by a professional scout, Rene Mons, who had seen him play for Pace and in the Cape Cod Baseball League.
“I kind of was a little bitter at baseball,” Manning said. “I ran into a scout and he said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said I was done with baseball; no one really wants me. He really encouraged me to start playing again. I did.”
Running into Mons led to a nine-year career in professional baseball as a player and coach, and ultimately Manning’s current position as head coach at Pace.
“It really was definitely a turning point,” Manning said. “If he didn’t tell me to keep working or stick it out, who knows where I would be. It was a good chance meeting.”
Manning, 43, believes he still would have coached somewhere voluntarily, but wouldn’t have had a career in baseball if not for the meeting that was much more than chance.
“Karma, fate, whatever you may want to say,” Manning said. “But I haven’t looked at my paycheck in 13 years to be honest with you.’’
Manning, who lives in Park Ridge with his wife, Kristen, and their children, Julia and Matthew, is in his 13th year at Pace, 11 as the Division II school’s head coach. Previously, he experienced the often roller-coaster life of professional ball.
Not being drafted as a junior – following a summer when his .292 average ranked in the top 20 in the Cape Cod League that featured future major league stars Frank Thomas, Mo Vaughn, Jeff Bagwell, Jeff Kent and Chuck Knoblauch – soured Manning.
But meeting Mons pushed Manning to play in the Met League and try out for the Reds, Indians and Pirates. He eventually got a deal with the Chicago White Sox with help from late scout Ed Ford of Jersey City.
Manning spent five years with the organization, reaching as high as Class AAA, and once played on the same team as Michael Jordan. Manning made national headlines by telling a Birmingham, Ala., newspaper he thought the basketball legend was taking away someone’s job. USA Today picked up the story.
“A couple of days later, Michael tapped me on the shoulder in a playful way and was joking with me about some of the comments,” Manning said. “That was my first introduction to make sure you know what you’re saying to the media.”
Manning’s White Sox career ended in 1995. He had two stints with Winnipeg in the Northern League and a brief one with the Red Sox organization before getting his first bench job.
Manning managed the Johnstown (Pa.) Steal to the Frontier League’s best record in 1997. After two years as the assistant general manager/coach of the New Jersey Jackals – the 1998 Northern League champs – Manning’s college coach Fred Calaicone called. He wanted someone he could groom as his successor, and Manning gladly returned to Pace.
Since becoming head coach in 2000, Manning is 235-303-3. Nine of his players have been drafted by major league teams, and five others play in independent leagues. He enjoys developing players, and runs Touch ’Em All Baseball Camp every summer at Pace.
It’s likely none of it would have happened if Manning hadn’t run into Mons.
“Baseball is a real funny game,” Manning said. “You could be on the outs and all of a sudden it could turn on a dime.”
Read full article on NorthJersey.com: