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AN Exclusive: Sean Manaea On His Future And His Heritage

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

{This was originally published in March. Welcome to the Show, Sean Manaea!} -Nico

They are ballplayers and they are people. At this point we can't know what kind of pitcher Sean Manaea will wind up being, but after having the opportunity to interview Manaea I can tell you he is one my new favorite people. So approachable, so friendly, so humble, and as you will see awfully forthcoming to some blogger he had never met before.

If it seems like I look up to Sean Manaea, he is 6'5" but standing next to him I would have believed it had he been listed as 6'7" - or maybe even 7'6". He has a big presence (although he is in very good shape, he is listed at 235 pounds) with the personality of a "gentle giant". Our interview took place on Saturday, March 5th, the day after his debut outing in which he threw 2 scoreless innings and reportedly touched 97MPH.

Nico: I was in Section 100 yesterday watching you pitch and you looked sharp. You looked like someone who could be in the big leagues right now. And I know "Plan A" is you go down to AAA, you wait for the call, you refine some stuff. Is there any part of you at this point thinking, "You know if I'm putting up insane numbers, if I'm just killing it, I can make them put me in the rotation out of camp?"

Manaea: I mean, yes and no. I can only do stuff that I can do, such as going out and pitching good, and doing my routines every day, getting better with pickoffs (laughs). That was kind of embarrassing, but just doing the little things and doing stuff I can control. And I can't really worry about what the front office thinks about me...If they think that the time is right then that's awesome, and if not that's still awesome: I'm still playing baseball, so to me the biggest thing is just to keep improving.

Nico: I know the game moves really fast at this level. Like what happened specifically with the pickoff?

Manaea: I'm kind of working on a new slide-step, a little faster and I feel like I get more behind the ball for some reason...I haven't really worked on it that much - last year I felt like I worked on my pickoff move a lot - and this year I feel like the pickoff move is better but I just haven't worked on it enough. It'll definitely be something I'm gonna keep working on these next couple of weeks in spring training and take into the season, so I feel like it's definitely something that will help me out down the road.

Nico: I know at this point your spring training sample is all of two innings, one outing, but at this stage what are you very satisfied with, pleased with, and what are the areas you're thinking "I need to improve this if I'm going to be in the big leagues"?

Manaea: I would say both my slider and changeup, usually it takes me forever to get those things going. And I never really had a changeup until the end of last year, and right now I still have that good feeling of the changeup and having the right grip. And the slider is definitely coming along a lot faster than it usually does, so to me those are the good things I'm most impressed with and something I need to keep working on because sometimes it's not as consistent as it could be. My changeup: I feel like it's there and it's good at times, but I also feel it could be way more consistent.

Nico: It looks like, just eyeballing it, that your fastball had a lot of run yesterday. Is that typical? Is that something that has always been part of your game?

Manaea: Yeah, I mean every guy I play catch with, somebody new that I play catch with, they're always saying something about my fastball. To me it just looks straight. It's kinda weird, I guess, but to me it looks straight. But looking at the hitters and hearing what people say, it kinda has some life to it.

Nico: So I want to do somewhat of a "human interest" part, not just baseball. Which is always a little awkward because I met you like 4 minutes ago. {Manaea laughs} But let's just pretend we've known each other a long time. {"OK!"} First of all, just growing up can you give me a little context about what might be interesting to know about your childhood, your family --

Manaea: Hmm...My dad was born in American Samoa, in Laulii (la-WEE-ee) and he came over to Hawaii when he was in 20s, fought in Vietnam, then got stationed in Indiana. He got married had my half-brother - my bigger brother - then they separated and my dad met my mom, had my older brother. He's 26, he's stationed in Roda, Spain right now. He's in the Navy, so that's really cool. And then they had me, in Wanatah, Indiana. It's a really small town: there's less than 1,000 people and there's only one stoplight, and there's a Subway and a Burger King. So that's kind of what I grew up in. I mean, I love it there; you've got all the four seasons. Sometimes the winters can be pretty brutal but I still love it over there and a lot of my family still lives in Indiana.

I've got family in Samoa and Hawaii, and I just met my dad's side of the family for the first time, last off-season, because we never really had money to go traveling. So that was really cool!

Nico: Can you pick out any highlights from that experience? That sounds like a life-changing kind of experience. {Manaea grins}

Manaea: Just meeting my cousins for the first time. I'm friends with them on Facebook, but just getting to see them and hug them and do all that family stuff - I had never even met them before, but obviously they're family so it's really awesome to finally meet them. {Manaea points to his right arm, where an intricate and aesthetic tattoo runs almost from his shoulder to his elbow} My tattoo started out in Samoa and that's something I'm really proud of, really happy about. Yeah, just being able to go to the islands was awesome. It's really beautiful over there and I'm really glad I got to experience that.

Nico: Can you describe the tattoo? Because this is going to be typed! {Manaea laughs sympathetically} So I have to try to describe it. And what it means to you? {To give an idea of what Manaea is describing, here is an image of a tattoo featuring Samoan symbols}


Manaea:
It just has a whole bunch of different meanings, like all these symbols {pointing to his arm} have different meanings: "knowledge" and "wisdom," "strength" and all that stuff. It really is something that I'm proud of just being a Samoan. I know there are not that many baseball players that are of Samoan descent. In Polynesia I know there's a bunch of Hawaiian players and some Tongan players, but it's just really cool knowing that I'm kind of unique, knowing where I came from, knowing my heritage, knowing my family. It reminds me every day of how to carry about my business, just to think of my family and what would make them proud.

Nico: You know when you're from such a small town and now you're a pretty high profile prospect at this point, I can imagine you'd be kind of a hometown hero at that stoplight --

Manaea: Ha ha, yeah, when I first got drafted, we have what's called a Scarecrow Festival. It's every September at the end of the month, and obviously I'm not able to make it there because of baseball, so the town asked my parents to be the grand marshal of the parade, and they wanted me to be there but obviously I couldn't be there. So they had a big cardboard cutout of my head, and it got to ride around in the front of the car at the front of the parade, so that was pretty cool.

Nico: Now have you always had that signature hair? Was that part of the cutout?

Manaea: No! I've been growing it out since May. I pretty much lost a bet and shaved my head {"Oh yeah, I knew that."} I've been growing it out. The A's are really lenient about the hair, and it's kind of a cool thing being unique, so I might as well grow it out. I mean it's already been long for quite a while now. I just keep thinking to myself, "I might as well just go for it," you know? See how long I can take it.

Though he is still likely to open the season at AAA Nashville, Manaea continues to open eyes in spring training. He has now thrown 4⅔ IP, allowing 2 hits and 1 run with 3 BBs, 5 Ks, 1 pickoff error, 97MPH, and great hair.