Mansolino settling in as coach, helping young Indians hitters
For most players, the end of their playing career means the end of the line for their baseball career. But for some, they move into coaching, be it at the high school, college or even the professional level.
One such person is Tony Mansolino.
Mansolino, 30, is in his third year of coaching with the Cleveland Indians and his first as hitting coach at Low-A Lake County. Prior to that, he played professionally for six seasons from 2005-2010 after being selected in the 25th round of the 2005 Draft by the Pirates out of Vanderbilt.
His transition from a player to a coach has gone well, and he continues to adjust and learn. He feels that his experience as a role player in the minors and playing several positions helped prepare him for it.
“It’s been pretty good and been fairly seamless,” Mansolino said about his move into coaching. “As a player I was a good self-evaluator and knew I was limited in a lot of ways, so knowing that, I kind of tried to hang in there as long as I could so I could build up enough playing experience to get a coaching job one day. As a player I was highly aware of what everyone else on the field was doing and what their responsibility was on any given play. In doing so I guess I found myself at times being a coach on the field, and doing that I feel like I was prepared for it when I got into coaching.”
Mansolino was always honest with himself when he played. He understood that a lot of chips had to fall his way for things to work out. They did not and he has moved on to his next chapter in his baseball life.
“First and foremost, if you have a uniform on your back your number one goal is to make it to the big leagues,” Mansolino said. “I was very aware of my odds of making it to the big leagues, but saying that, I showed up every day to the field and I still worked and I still believed that if I earned the right opportunity I could do it. When that day came and it ended I was okay with it. I knew it was coming and it did not blindside me whereas with a lot of guys who are not good self-evaluators it is tough when their day comes and it ends.”
Mansolino graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Human and Organizational Development. While he could use that degree to earn more money outside of baseball, he loves the game and has used the degree in his coaching along with his four years of college playing experience and six years of minor league experience.
Mansolino grew up in the game as his father, Doug, has been a coach or manager in affiliated ball since the mid-80s and is currently the infield coordinator for the Phillies. With his father in the game, the younger Mansolino has spent his whole life running around in clubhouses for as long as he can remember.
He remembers showing up to the field and wearing a uniform, hitting in the cages with players before BP, and during BP going out and shagging fly balls. During the game he would sit in the clubhouse and then eat with the players after the game.
It is that experience of growing up with the game where Mansolino’s love for it developed.
“I grew up in it and I think when you spend that much time in it and you love it; it is in your blood,” Mansolino said. “I have an incredible degree as I went to a university that refined me in more ways than just baseball. In terms of using that degree in a traditional way, I could probably make more money and have more of what you consider a normal life. But to be honest with you, the baseball life is a normal life for me. This is in my blood man and I am very comfortable being in this environment.”
When Mansolino retired after the 2010 season he immediately looked to get into coaching. He got on the phone and called around to every farm director and left messages. Some people called him back, some didn’t.
One of the ones that called him back was Cleveland Indians Vice President of Player Development Ross Atkins. It caught him off guard because he did not really know anybody in the organization aside from Carter Hawkins who at the time was doing some advanced scouting on the major league side.
“Ross didn’t owe me anything and didn’t need to call me back, but he did and took the time to talk to me for quite a bit,” Mansolino recalled. “It just so happened that they were going to have a player-coach position available in 2011. They gave me an opportunity and I went through a pretty rigorous interview process for it. I am very thankful that they did give me the opportunity because this is an incredibly difficult game to get into on the coaching end, especially for guys who did not play in the big leagues. To get into an organization that values more than just personal experience is a blessing and I am very thankful for it.”
Mansolino’s hiring as a player-coach was merely a formality. In a lot of organizations the fourth coach on a staff is a player-coach and listed as such more for budget reasons. Teams have different budgets as they have their strength and conditionings budget, the coaching budget, the six year free agent budget, and so on. Sometimes what a team will do to get more coaches on the staff is sign a young guy as a coach but pay them out of their six-year free agent budget. That’s what the Indians did with Mansolino.
In his first two years as a coach in the organization Mansolino coached in extended spring training for the first few months of the season and then went to short season Single-A Mahoning Valley when their season started in June. Now, he is in Lake County and is working to get a young, talented core of hitters to keep improving and moving up in the system.
“We are a very young group of players – I think the youngest in the league by a full year age-wise,” Mansolino said. “With that there are going to be some challenges, but it is also very rewarding when you see guys make progress and get better and have personal success in the game. It has been an incredible experience and I have already learned so much about how to be a better coach and how to help these guys out and how to adapt. I am trying to help motivate these guys and keep them in tune with what they are supposed to be doing. It has been challenging and rewarding at the same time.”
Mansolino is an avid reader and loves to play golf, but these days he spends most of his free time trying to learn Spanish. He is currently on disc number two of Rosetta Stone – a software program that uses images, text, sound and video to teach words and grammar by spaced repetition without translation.
“I decided I am going to learn to speak Spanish,” Mansolino said. “I have had a bunch of people tell me it is pretty much impossible, but I am going to show them it is not. It may take me a few years, but I will do it. That takes up most of my time.”
The Spanish is but a secondary goal for Mansolino as he has many other important goals to accomplish with the second half underway.
“As a coach you have to continue to get your players better,” Mansolino said. “When you are on the inside in player development, your number one goal is to get guys closer to their goal which ultimately is to make it to the major leagues. As we get into the second half these guys have to continue to get better. Number two, my goal is to win some games and have fun with these guys because I think when you do win guys tend to perform better individually. It goes hand in hand.”
While Mansolino works to round his players into shape, he himself is always looking for ways to improve upon himself as well.
“I want to be a better version of myself all the time,” Mansolino said. “I have parents that are very successful in what they do. It is very motivating looking up to them with what they have done in their careers, their lives, and how they have raised their family. That is very important to me. I think they are probably my biggest motivation, and I think in anything you do – be it learning Spanish, or being a coach, or being a husband, or being a parent – you need to do it the best you can. You should always be striving to be a better version of yourself, and that was something always ingrained into me at a very young age by my parents.”
His playing days may be over, but Mansolino is fully committed to coaching and excited about the young players in the Indians organization and about what his future holds.
“Basically the way I see it is the best job in the world is playing baseball, and the second best job is coaching it,” Mansolino said. “It didn’t work out as a player as I wasn’t good enough, so I think this is more of where my direction was supposed to be.”
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