Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo gathered his guys together in the clubhouse before the start of the Diamondbacks’ National League West matchup against Colorado two Sundays ago.
Lovullo didn’t use the moment to deliver a “win one for the gipper” speech, but to inform D-Backs’ left-handed reliever and former Tunstall standout Joe Mantiply that he was heading to Dodger Stadium for the 2022 All-Star Game on Tuesday as a relief pitcher for the NL.
One might be the loneliest number you’ll ever do, but Mantiply would’ve still been excited if he received the news while by himself. However, having his teammates around when he found out put a cherry on top.
“To have all the guys in the clubhouse cheering for me, some of my best friends in the world were in that room so to be able to celebrate it with them as well was awesome,” Mantiply said. “They’re my family when I’m away from home during the season so to have those guys pumped for me, it means a ton.”
While he’s a major league reliever and not a rapper, his teammates’ happiness and support have left Mantiply wanting to represent them well in the 92nd Mid-Summer Classic.
“It makes me want to represent them well because everyone in that room wants to be that guy so I feel obligated to represent them and to have them pulling and cheering for me means everything,” he said.
Mantiply’s teammates weren’t the only ones close to him that got to share in on the news.
Mantiply’s parents, David and Trenace, were sitting in the stands at Chase Field, enjoying the game, when two men with TV cameras sat down in front of them. While not a usual sight in everyday life, it is a common sight at ballgames and the two didn’t think anything about the cameramen’s presence at first.
That soon changed, though, as the two turned around and told David and Trenace they were reporters and wanted to interview the two about their son’s All-Star selection.
“It was surreal because the TV folks came and found us in the stands and did a live broadcast with us, we got to be there, hear the announcement and see Joe get recognized and come out and tip his hat, it was surreal,” David said. “Some more TV folks interviewed us so were on the news on two channels that night. It was wild all these people sticking cameras in our faces.”
For Trenace, it was the culmination of a whirlwind week.
“When we were there, all week everybody was texting us, sending us all these articles and everything but [David] and I said we weren’t going to say anything about the All-Star game because we didn’t want him to feel that everywhere he went he had to hear about it,” Trenace said. “The whole week was liking having an elephant in the room so when he called us and let us know, we said, ‘get out of the room, elephant.’”
In a serendipitous twist, David and Trenace had originally planned to make the trip to Phoenix in April but were forced to change their plans.
“It was kind of ironic because we were going out in April but I’m glad we changed our plans because we got to be there for his big moment and on the way home I kept thinking, ‘gosh, he’s really going to the All-Star game’,” Trenace said laughing. “He’s a great son, a great husband to his wife, [Ella], a great father to his daughters [Katherine] and [Emma], and he’s just a very happy-go-lucky, fun-loving kind of guy and deserves this.”
David is still in a bit of shock as well.
“It blows my mind to think there’s maybe 750 guys playing in the majors and out of those guys, maybe 50 are going to the All-Star game and to know [Joe] is one of those guys, it really amazes me,” David said. “In one way I’m not surprised but on the other hand, it blows me away. It’s definitely a bucket list item for me. I get to watch my boy in the All-Star game.”
Of course, even if David and Trenace hadn’t been able to make it out to Phoenix, it wouldn’t have taken them long to hear the news as they are in constant touch with Mantiply along with their son Sam and daughter Mollie via a text chain dubbed “The Ply’s.”
It’s that tightness that made having his parents out there for the selection so much sweeter for Mantiply.
“It was unbelievable to have them there in the stands, the timing of it just worked out perfectly,” he said. “Couldn’t be happier for them because they’ve been there every step of the way, they’ve pushed me just as hard as anyone so just to have them there and be there to enjoy it with me is something I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
Mantiply has had a breakout season this year for the Diamondbacks as their setup guy. The 31-year-old southpaw currently owns the MLB record for most consecutive appearances by a left-handed pitcher without a walk at 33 — a mark he credits to keeping them swinging.
“If you don’t put guys on base and you make guys earn it, the odds are in your favor,” he said. “So, it’s stacking the zone as much as you can and hopefully guys get themselves out. There’s a lot of different ways for guys to miss pitches so as long as you’re keeping guys swinging, the odds are in your favor.”
He earned the win in relief on Opening Day and didn’t allow his first run until his 12th appearance of the season. Mantiply also turned in a 0.45 ERA over the opening two months of the season and even after a few shaky appearances recently, still holds a 2.21 ERA — good enough for 13th among NL pitchers with at least 35 innings thrown.
Making things even more impressive, Mantiply has never been known for his overpowering stuff with a fastball that tops out in the low-90s. However, he’s absolutely fearless on the mound, has a killer off-speed and breaking stuff and his desire to compete is off the charts.
Of all things, according to Mantiply, he developed all those traits while playing for Barry Shelton, Mark Austin and Lane Woods out at Tunstall.
“It’s something I’ve always had to have because I haven’t always had the most electric stuff,” Mantiply said. “Even in high school I had to pitch, I had to be able to throw three pitches for not just strikes, but quality strikes, so that’s something I’ve constantly worked on every day since I was a freshman in high school. It’s taken a long time to get that consistency but that’s what’s helped me the most.
“My ability to stay consistent with all three of those pitches and keep guys off balance and I think my numbers are reflecting that.”
Of course, working with one of the best pitching coaches in all of baseball, Brent Strom, can’t hurt his cause either.
According to Mantiply, Strom’s mixture of old-school-new-school approaches is what makes him such a benefit.
“He’s very involved and he cares,” Mantiply said. “He cares about all of our performances. He takes every pitch to heart, wants us to succeed and works just as hard as anyone to help us succeed. He’s a good mix of old-school, pre-analytic stuff and gives you cues to make your pitches a little more consistent, your delivery a little better.
“He’s also very versed in the analytic realm and knows how to combine the two which is rare in today’s game.”
Along with Strom, Mantiply also gave credit to Austin and Shelton.
“Those guys have always been in my corner and supported me as much as anybody else and still do, I owe a lot to them as well,” Mantiply said.
David and Trenace also credited Shelton, Austin and Woods along with former professional pitcher and Reidsville, North Carolina, native Scott Bankhead and Jeff Rudder, Joe Distad, Scott Van Allen and Skip Walker for their son’s success.
Baseball’s culture is based on paying dues, bus rides, injuries, failures, grinding and surviving. It’s almost like the military with Danville and Chattanooga representing Fort Bragg and Parris Island.
Of course, nobody has to tell Mantiply that as he’s paid his share of dues since being drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2013.
Three years ago, Mantiply ran out on the mound at Yankee Stadium, donning the famous Yankee pinstripes, for a relief performance against the Baltimore Orioles. He pitched three solid innings of middle relief, picking up the win in the process. The next day, he was out of a job.
Since being drafted nine years ago, he’s played for four different organizations in the Tigers, Reds, Yankees and Diamondbacks.
Above them all, he’s also undergone Tommy John surgery — the most serious operation a baseball player can undergo and one that’s often a career killer.
Mantiply is still standing throughout it all, appreciative of the struggles and not taking anything for granted.
“They’ve shown me this game is a privilege and to be able to play it as long as I have is something I cherish and through all of those struggles I know how quickly the game can be taken away so I try to go out and play every night like it’s my last,” Mantiply said. “You never know when the last game you’re going to pitch is going to come so every chance I get to be at the field, I try to cherish it and my struggles have helped me do that.”
David has seen his son’s struggles provide him with a perspective not everyone can have.
“There have been a lot of bumps in the road, a lot of hiccups, but he’s always stayed positive and stayed dedicated toward his goals,” David said. “He’s always stayed positive, been supportive of us, his teammates and has always kept his eyes on and working for the big prize because he knows he wants it and is going to have to keep grinding and driving.”
Mantiply credits his family’s support for getting him through the hard times.
“They’ve just always been in my corner and encouraging me to keep working hard,” he said. “[Mollie] and [Sam] as well as my parents have been there for my whole career ever since I was a kid. All the traveling we did so for them to be just excited and happy for me, it means everything. With everything that goes on in this world, for us to be so close means everything to me.”
Trenace credits Ella as being a huge support in his life as well.
“He has a very supportive wife who was a college athlete so she knows how things can be,” Trenace said. “[Ella] played softball at Virginia Tech and she’s been there every step of the way and I don’t think he gets to where he’s at right now without her support.”
Last Sunday during a Danville Otterbots’ game, an Otterbots fan informed his friend of Mantiply’s All-Star selection then complimented Mantiply’s humility, saying you’d never know he was a ballplayer.
It doesn’t take long talking with Mantiply to realize the ‘Bots fan was right on the money with his assessment.
At the end of the day, it’s his humbleness that has helped Mantiply reach this point.
“I think it’s helped me stay on an even keel,” he said. “We play a lot of games, we pretty much play every day so whether you do good or bad, there’s a job to do the next day so you can’t get too high or too low, you’ve got to be able to move on quickly and I’ve been humbled a lot in this game and I continue to get humbled. To me, it takes no talent to be a good person or good teammate so that’s one of the few things you can control in the sports world.”
David added, “I think it’s had a huge part in him becoming a professional, it’s been a huge part of his success. He’s well-liked by the coaching staff, the general manager’s office, his teammates they love him. They know he’s going to do his job and go out and compete.”
Trenace believes his humility has helped him remain happy and appreciative throughout it all.
“I think he’s happy and satisfied by where he’s at right now,” she said. “And I think it’s because he knows how lucky he is to playing this game and doing something he truly loves.”