Little more than a month had passed IN the 2016 season, and Elizabethtown College baseball newcomer Derek Manning appeared to be the frontrunner for Landmark Conference Rookie of the Year honors.
He carried a .443 batting average into mid-April—among the conference’s best—and was routinely putting forth multi-hit performances. Ailing hamstrings cost Derek the season’s final month, and, while the end result left a sense of frustration, he cherished the opportunity to play alongside brother Dylan Manning ’16 in the elder sibling’s senior year.
“My first year was the most fun I’ve had playing baseball and also the most memorable,” said Derek. “Dylan and I grew up playing backyard ball, but never got the chance to play together in a competitive setting until I came to E-town. Having him around for support was crucial for me as a first-year student.”
During a March blowout victory at Scranton where he and Dylan were hitting fourth and fifth in the lineup, Derek took a pitch to the ribs. Dylan followed by smacking a double that led to the Royals’ pitcher being replaced. “That was the coolest,” Derek recalled of his brother having his back.
While family and baseball were vital components of Derek staying in Lancaster County to further his education, Elizabethtown’s respected engineering program sealed the deal.
“Initially I explored attending larger schools in metropolitan areas, but those campuses didn’t make me feel at home. Elizabethtown has that small town, rural country mix that creates a close-knit feeling on campus.”
Derek was excelling on the field and carrying a 4.0 GPA in computer engineering off of it, but when the 2016-2017 academic year rolled around, he needed a reset.
“There was a level of burnout and, I needed a year to focus on other aspects of my life,” he said. “It was a tough year but fulfilling at the same time. I did miss the game and I still followed the team closely, but I was able to develop further academically, personally and as a student leader in my role as a resident assistant.”
Through the stretch of self-exploration and growth, Derek got himself to a place where he was comfortable. All the while, his academic performance never wavered. “I was able to reframe all aspects of my life and stick to enjoying what I’m doing in life at present,” he stated.
“Dylan and I grew up playing backyard ball, but never got the chance to play together in a competitive setting until I came to E-town.”
Derek’s decision to return to baseball as a junior in 2018 paid major dividends for the Blue Jays. He put up some of the best single-season numbers in program history, including a school-record 22 doubles, 69 hits (third all-time) and a .457 batting average (fifth all-time) as Elizabethtown advanced to the Landmark Conference Championship tournament.
Within NCAA Division III nationally, the outfielder ranked fourth in doubles per game (0.56), fifth in total doubles and ninth in batting average.
The postseason awards rolled in quickly for Derek. He received the Landmark Conference’s highest honor as Player of the Year and All-Landmark First Team. Manning also collected All-America Third Team and All-Mid-Atlantic Region First Team honors from the American Baseball Coaches Association and a spot on D3baseball.com’s All-Mid-Atlantic Region First Team.
Derek’s continued academic success –a still unblemished GPA—was recognized in the form of Google Cloud Academic All-America and All-District First Team accolades. He is just the third Elizabethtown baseball player named First Team Academic All-America in the history of the award and first since Gary Yeager Jr. in 1995.
The awards were validation for one of the top seasons in program history, but they did not come without trials and hard work.
“It was difficult to pick up where I left off after almost a year of inactivity,” said Manning. “It took a full commitment to conditioning and lifting to work on getting back to game shape and seeing live pitching again was a struggle at first. By the end of fall ball (2017), I was starting to feel good again.”
Derek had to maneuver through a challenging class schedule, complicated by a spring full of adverse weather. “I was juggling two 400-level courses with time-intensive labs, and, with our baseball schedule in such flux, there were instances where I had to learn material, independently, outside of class. Along with being an in-season student-athlete and a resident assistant, it really tested my time management skills.”
Derek credits head coach Adam Sheibley’s ’09 offseason strength and conditioning program and yoga classes taught by Elizabethtown College Associate Professor of Spanish Charla Lorenzen at nearby Spooky Nook Sports in helping maximize his physical and mental health this past season.
Coming off a career-best year, Derek feels he is in a prime spot to push even further in the future. He has two years of athletic eligibility remaining and is already contemplating post-graduate plans to include a doctoral degree in electrical and computer engineering. Returning to Elizabethtown, as a professor in the Department of Engineering, would be the ultimate goal.
“The entire faculty I’ve worked with at Elizabethtown are extremely supportive of my engagements in athletics and intent on helping me fulfill my potential—on and off the field.”
“It’s been a blessing to work with people who are committed to your well-being and success, and I’m especially grateful for the time I’ve had learning from Dr. Estrada, Dr. Read-Daily and Dr. Wunderlich.”
The college experience might not have played out the way a rejuvenated Derek always envisioned it would, but there are no regrets with the road less traveled to get here and only excitement for what the future holds.