Rainiers’ 24-year-old third baseman Matt Mangini is one of those rare players who was drafted by the Mariners (52nd overall in 2007) and has come up through their systeam starting with Everett and High Desert. He was with the double A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx the past two years. Recently, Mangini sat down with Tacoma Weekly baseball writer Karen Westeen to talk about his first four years in professional baseball.
TW: You were born in Springfield, Massachusetts but now live in Raleigh, North Carolina. When did you move?
MM: When I was 10. I started grade school in Massachusetts but graduated from high school in Apex, North Carolina.
TW: Where did you go to college?
MM: The first two years I attended North Carolina State University. I transferred to Oklahoma State University in 2007.
TW: Did you graduate?
MM: No, I have about two semesters to finish. I majored in sports management at NC State, then went into education when I transferred. I think I would like to teach or coach down the line. I’ve done some kids camps and enjoyed teaching them what a great game this is.
TW: Did you play other sports?
MM: I played football in high school. Growing up I played soccer, golf and baseball.
TW: With the Rainiers you have played mostly third base. Is that your natural position?
MM: I experimented some with playing in the outfield in school but mostly I play first and third. I enjoy playing third more.
TW: While growing up what team did you follow?
MM: Coming from Massachusetts it was the Red Sox.
TW: Who was your role model?
MM: Definitely it was Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves. He was always relaxed, but I try to learn everything I can from everyone, especially my teammates who have played for a while.
TW: Tell me about playing on summer league teams.
MM: In 2005 I played in the Northwoods League with Thunder Bay, Ontario. I was named the league’s top prospect and a Baseball America Summer League All-American. In 2006, I played in the Cape Cod League with the Hyannis Mets. That summer I won the Thurman Munson Award for being the batting champion.
TW: You are one of the few players on the Rainiers who was drafted by the Mariners. Did you expect them to be interested?
MM: I was looked at a lot by scouts but it’s such a long shot to know where you will go. Teams’ needs change during the draft. I figured whoever picks you picks you.
TW: You have moved around a lot. Is there a place you really liked?
MM: Anywhere in the South is nice. Tennessee was pretty cool. I really like the close environment at Cheney Stadium.
TW: Has your family seen you play here?
MM: Not yet but they saw me in May when the Rainiers were in Memphis.
TW: What do you do during the off-season? Have you played fall or winter ball?
MM: Not so far. During the off-season I take about a month off, step away from baseball, work out and stay in shape. Last year I bought a dog I named Chipper for Chipper Jones. I still live with my family when I’m home. The past two years I’ve gone on vacation to the Virgin Islands. Being at this level is more mentally taxing and I like to get away and relax.
TW: Is offense or defense your biggest asset?
MM: Offense. I’ve been doing okay on defense, but with all the transactions it takes some time to get used to how teammates play. That comes with more games together. The speed of the games here is faster so you have to relax more when you play at this level. (As of June 28 Mangini is batting .306, with nine home runs (third most) and 11 doubles (tied for second). He bats left and throws right.)
TW: Your numbers make you look like a power hitter. Is that how you see yourself?
MM: I’ve been working on it the past couple of years, but I’m also somewhat of a contact guy. My power comes from trying to hit the ball hard. If your mechanics are right and you’re feeling good, home runs happen.
TW: What must the team do to reach the post season?
MM: Lately we have been keeping it going on all cylinders. We’ve been doing just enough hitting and pitching to win. As long as we have that momentum, we’re a good team. It’s been difficult with all the transactions but it’s important to have a good clubhouse and make guys feel important.
TW: Have you been to the playoffs before?
MM: Last year in double A, we were in the playoffs but got knocked out in the first round. When you’re still playing and everyone else has gone home you realize how important it is to play hard every inning during the season.
TW: What has been the highlight of your career?
MM: Playing in the Cape Cod League. The summer I played in the Northwoods League all I heard about was the Cape. When you finally get there you understand why. It’s just baseball at its purest form. Also both leagues use wood bats and it helps you get used to them.