GRANVILLE — From one small town to the next, West Virginia Black Bears pitcher Alex Manasa slowly carved his path to the spotlight.
The only things that changed along the way were the faces around him — that, and his position on the field.
Manasa’s journey to the majors began in Farmington, Mich., a city with a population of just over 10,000. Manasa was crucial on the diamond for Farmington High — just not at the position where most Black Bears fans would expect him: Outfield.
According to Manasa, the offers weren’t exactly pouring in his senior year — it seemed not many colleges were interested in his skill at anchoring the outfield.
Still keeping his MLB dreams alive, Manasa sought out the junior-college route, finding a new home and a new position.
Upon his joining the roster at Jackson (Mich.) Community College, the coaching staff experimented with Manasa on the mound.
“I was blessed to pick up pitching a little bit more, and now I’m here,” he said.
Splitting time between outfield and relief pitcher, Manasa recorded a .410 batting average to lead his team to a 37-12-2 record. But his skill at the plate wasn’t what attracted attention.
On the mound for Jackson C.C., Manasa pitched just 21 1/3 innings, yet he recorded five saves and a 1.27 ERA, and struck out 31 batters while walking just three.
Suddenly, the scouts were knocking at Manasa’s door.
“It was about halfway through my college season last spring that scouts started coming out,” he said. “I realized if I take this more seriously, I may have a chance.”
For most players, the switch in position would be a tough adjustment, and not always a welcome one. Manasa, though, was thrilled to reinvent his game, provided it meant a shot at playing with the big boys.
“I welcomed it with open arms,” he said. “I enjoy hitting a lot, and I miss it still, but pitching is what got me here.”
Come the 11th round of the MLB draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates brought Manasa aboard, shipping him to another small city to continue crafting his talent as a pitcher — Bristol, Va.
As a member of the Bristol Pirates in the Rookie Advanced short-season league, Manasa introduced himself to the pros by giving up a two-run homer. He knew then it was a much different scene than junior college.
“In junior college, you can just throw strikes and you get people out,” Manasa said. “Here, you have to game plan and know how to sequence against certain hitters. It’s definitely a learning process.”
Manasa dug deep and rebounded, finishing his season in Bristol with a 2-1 record. He recorded a 3.27 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 38 innings of action.
That productivity led Manasa to his most recent stop: Almost heaven, West Virginia. Just another small city on the journey to Pittsburgh. Now he’s trying to further develop his ability as a starter.
“I think the adjustment here has been pretty simple,” he said. “We have worked a lot on extending my innings for me to go deeper in the game, as I was a reliever last year.
“With the work we’ve put in, it made that adjustment a lot easier.”
Manasa recently earned his second win — his first in nearly a month — as a Black Bear and his fourth career pro win, handling the first five innings as West Virginia defeated State College, 7-4, in the final game of the Moonshiner series. The win snapped a seven-game losing streak that dropped the squad to last in the New York-Penn League.
“I just wanted to come out and set the tone,” he said. “I knew in order to give my team a chance to win, I needed to hold the other team to less runs that we scored. I think I achieved that.”
For Manasa, the win means a lot, but not as much as continuing to adjust and improve his game in search of a chance to see the top tier of competition in baseball.
“I’ve just got to keep working every day, and preparing myself every week,” he said. “I just try to improve after every outing.”