Hello fans, this is Jeff Manship coming to you from Phoenix, Ariz., home of the Phoenix Desert Dogs in the Arizona Fall League. I should mention that this is the first time that I have ever participated in a blog and I’m really looking forward to sharing my experiences throughout the AFL.
First, I would like to introduce myself. I was born in San Antonio, Texas, and currently reside in Boerne, Texas, in the offseason. I attended the University of Notre Dame, where I was selected in the 14th round of the 2006 Draft. I was also drafted out of high school in 2003 by the Arizona Diamondbacks with the second to last pick of the draft (somewhere around pick 1,400 I believe). I was really hoping to receive the Mr. Irrelevant honor by being the last pick but fell just short. I am so happy that I decided to attend Notre Dame instead of signing pro out of high school. My experiences in college were some that I will never forget and wouldn’t trade anything in the world for. I was extremely honored to sign a contract with the Twins in 2006. My brother, Matt, was also drafted in 2006 out of Stanford University by the Oakland Athletics. He played short-season A ball in Vancouver, BC. Currently he is training to become a pilot for the Navy. Matt is someone who I greatly admire and have looked up to my entire life. There is no doubt in my mind that he helped me become the pitcher that I am today.
Unfortunately, after my senior year in high school I blew out my right elbow while playing for Team USA in Curacao, Netherland Antilles. I ended up receiving Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery during my freshman year at Notre Dame and didn’t fully recover until the summer after my sophomore year. While nobody ever wants to receive surgery on their arm, I do feel that having the surgery helped me in so many ways. Most importantly, it taught me that through hard work comes good results. My work ethic drastically improved due to the strenuous rehabilitation. I was determined to return to my original form and pitch competitively again and was willing to do anything to get there. Coming into college I was a very frail, but after having surgery, I managed to gain a great deal of strength and much-needed weight.
After signing in 2006, I was sent to Florida and played in the Gulf Coast League for a short time and was then promoted to the Fort Myers Miracle in the Florida State League. I quickly realized that professional baseball is completely different from college baseball, but I liked the change. I am very fortunate to have been selected by the Twins because they are an organization that goes about things the right way, and that became very evident immediately after signing. I ended up leaving early from Florida to return to Notre Dame to complete a semester of school. Life without baseball in college is drastically different. I had more time than I knew what to do with since I wasn’t at the field for six-plus hours a day.
I began the 2007 season in Beloit, Wisc., in the Midwest League. Luckily, I was conditioned to handle the cold weather that burdened the beginning of our season since I had been in South Bend, Ind., the past three years. Even so, the first game was easily the coldest environment I have ever thrown in. It was a pleasant 25 degrees with a 10-degree wind chill and light snow — perfect weather to play baseball in. I can remember trying to get off the field and back into the dugout as quick as possible each inning so I could huddle up next to the single jet heater. The Midwest League provided some great memories, especially winning the first half in our division. Halfway through the season, I was promoted to the Florida State League and played for the Miracle again. The difference from low A to high A was noticable, but nowhere near the jump that I would face during the 2008 season. I finished the year strong and was very happy with my performance in both Beloit and Fort Myers. I felt that in my first full season of pro ball I had grown significantly. I was realizing what it took to be a professional and how to represent myself as a Twin in the best possible way. In addition, I proved to myself that I could remain healthy through a full season. I returned to Notre Dame again in the fall for my last semester and graduated with a degree in economics.
The 2008 season was a big adjustment for me and was full of ups and downs. I began the season in Fort Myers and had a solid first half. We won the division with practically the same team that we had in Beloit from the 2007 season. After the All-Star break, I was promoted to the New Britain Rockcats of the Eastern League where I would really be tested. Everything I had heard about the jump from Class A to Double-A was entirely true. The differences were significant. While in New Britain, I experienced both success and hardships. I found it tough to remain consistent throughout the second half and had trouble stringing together multiple solid outings in a row. I was consistently higher in the strike zone compared to the first half in Fort Myers and the results of the elevation in my pitches showed. Hitters rarely miss mistakes at the Double-A level and I was made well aware of that. I was able to make adjustments, though, and finished the season strong.
I am truly honored to have been selected to play in the Arizona Fall League and represent the Minnesota Twins. Tonight was our first game against the Mesa Solar Sox, and despite losing, I still had a fantastic time. The team is full of great players that I have enjoyed getting to know in the past week. I was informed that the Desert Dogs have won the AFL the past three seasons, so hopefully we can continue that trend.