By Jim Owczarski
Playing nine years of major league baseball for eight teams, along with a stint in Japan, followed by two years as a hitting coach for the Pittsburgh Pirates and four years in the Chicago White Sox organization, Jeff Manto has seen pretty much everything in the game.
Yet on Oct. 31, 2011, Manto was put in a position he never quite imagined. It wasnt being named the Chicago White Sox hitting coach thats old hat.
It was being named to an assistant coaching position in a city where fans not only know who you are, but want to hear from you. They cheer and jeer you, and sometimes you have to bear an undue brunt of frustration if things go poorly and receive perhaps too much credit when things go well.
Its something the 47-year-old has had to acclimate himself to rather quickly.
Ive seen that you pick up the papers and see quotes from the pitching coach and the hitting coach and the infield coach and I thought that was unusual, he said following a coaching seminar Saturday afternoon at SoxFest. I like to stay out of the way. Its (manager) Robin (Venturas) team. Id rather him give all the answers. But, I also know the dynamic of the city and they want to hear from me, Ill give them answers.
They might get a better answer from Robin.
Manto steps into the role vacated by Greg Walker, a coach beloved by his players but one the fans turned on quickly and often during his eight year tenure.
Though Manto paid Walker tribute for his hard work and the players shouldered all the blame for a season in which the team hit .252 with 154 home runs, the man affectionately known as Walk resigned on the last day of the season.
Enter Manto, who walks into a situation where multiple players are coming off disastrous offensive seasons. Brent Morel hit .245. Gordon Beckham hit .230. Alex Rios hit .227 and Adam Dunn hit .159.
The pressure is already on.
"Bottom line, if we hit, we're competing in the division, general manager Kenny Williams said. If we don't, we won't. Period."
Manto brings some experience with many of the current regulars after spending the past four seasons in the organization as its minor league hitting coordinator. He worked with Beckham, Morel, Alejandro De Aza, Dayan Viciedo and backup catcher Tyler Flowers. He also is familiar Brent Lillibridge from their time in the Pirates organization.
I do have a real sense of what they do and what theyre trying to do, Manto said. With Rios and Dunn, they might be different hitters but its just talking to them, seeing where they are. I want them to give me information. I dont want to give them the information because I want to see what they have to say.
You just trust the track record. Thats the simple thing. A lot of people are saying this is going to be a real tough job but I dont look at that way. My experience doesnt accept that. You understand a track record is a track record and these guys are great. The job I have (is) to get them back a spot theyre comfortable.
To his credit, Manto is embracing the role as much as he can. He opened a hitting seminar on Saturday alongside Lillibridge and Dunn by making a joke as to how important he is to everyone. But in the end, he hopes to spend more time away from the camera lights and tape recorders.
Hopefully people understand that its Robins team, its Robins hitters and Im just an extension of what hes trying to do, he said.