It’s viewed as a project that may be ahead of its timeline. The rebuild of the Manhattan College baseball team under head coach David Miller has been dubbed the “Manhattan Project.” Not as an ode to any arsenal of nuclear weapons, but rather as a new description of the changing dynamics of a baseball program.
The Jaspers are a unique example of the results not necessarily meeting the eye test. Manhattan was 22-34 overall but 13-11 against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference opponents.
In conference play, the Jaspers won four of their last five series to secure their spot in the MAAC playoffs, overcoming an earned runs average of over 6.00 from their pitchers and some poor fielding performances.
The Jaspers started the season in a funk, as they went 3-8 as part of back to back road trips to Florida and California. That included an 18-0 stinger to Stetson University in the season opener.
Despite losing all three games at Texas, freshman outfielder Daniel Perez recalls the progress his team showed against the “big boy” baseball of Austin.
“We started having fun and we realized we could compete with these guys,” said Perez, who tied for a team-high eight home runs this season. “The turning point may have been Texas.”
Junior outfielder Frankie Marinelli would not trade the experience in Texas or really any chance Manhattan gets to compete against some of the best in the country.
“There are nerves when you play in the MAAC Tournament,” Marinelli told the Riverdale Press. “But playing under the lights against Texas is a different story.”
Perez acknowledged how the bats “started to show” in Texas, which paved the way for a few scintillating offensive displays for the Jaspers.
The bats broke out when Manhattan hosted Stony Brook on April 18, which corresponded with the return of Jack Lynch, a fifth-year shortshop who batted .293 and missed two months due to injury. Manhattan overcame four-run and five-run deficits separately, which included Marinelli’s first career home run to tie the game initially, before his walk-off hit to seal the 13-12 win. Fittingly, Lynch came on as pinch hitter right before that and worked out a crucial walk.
On May 16, Manhattan equaled their season-high hits mark with 16 base knocks in a 13-12 win over Fordham in 13 innings. Perez had his first curtain call moment with a walk-off single to clinch the Jaspers’ first win over the Rams since 2018. Manhattan had to brush off four errors on their way to winning the longest game in the rivalry’s history which dates back over 150 years.
“It was a back and forth game,” Perez said. “It would be nice to play them more games and see who really has an upper hand here in the Bronx.”
The push to the playoffs for Manhattan featured two different pitching gems that proved to be instrumental looking back. For one game each of the graduate students Will Hesslink and Tyler Fagler pitched far above the standards of the MAAC, home to the worst ERA among all teams combined for any Division 1 conference.
Hesslink pitched the game of the season with a three-hit shutout in a 5-0 home win against Mount St. Mary’s on May 5. Later that month, with Manhattan’s magic win number to clinch a playoff spot down to one, Fagler gave up only three hits in seven scoreless innings to take game one of a doubleheader against Rider by a score of 5-1.
The Jaspers earned their right to play in the MAAC Tournament and were matched up with the third-seed Canisius Golden Griffins, who held only a three-game lead over sixth-seed Manhattan at the end of the regular season.
“Anyone can win any day in the MAAC,” Miller told Manhattan’s play-by-play announcer Marc Ernay. “I think that’s just what’s great about this league.”
On day one, Manhattan opened the eyes of their counterparts around the league with a 17-3 mercy rule victory over Canisius, the defending champions. Manhattan tagged MAAC Pitcher of the Year Matt Duffy for three runs and forced his exit in the fourth inning after he exceeded 100 pitches. In the top of the seventh, Manhattan added five more runs to turn their nine-run lead into a run-rule scenario.
On day two, Manhattan ran into one-seed Fairfield, who had previously taken two of three games from Manhattan in an early April series at Clover Park. The Jaspers couldn’t retain an early lead and lost 8-7, setting up the win or go home rematch with Canisius.
With ace Duffy unavailable, Manhattan couldn’t take advantage and left the bases loaded in the ninth with the tying run at third after Pete Durocher hit an infield popout.
The final score was 8-7.
“I told Coach Miller that Canisius was some of the most fun baseball I’ve played,” Marinelli said. “I thought we were right there with them.”
The Jaspers will look ahead to getting their nationally ranked recruiting class acclimated. Back in April, Miller unveiled 16 new recruits from the high school ranks set to join the team next season. Perfect Game appraised it the 63rd best class in the nation.
“He speaks in a type of way that excites you,” Perez said of Miller, a former first-round MLB draft pick who never appeared in the big leagues. “He wants to build a winning atmosphere.”
Manhattan is projected to continue playing home games at Clover Park located in Pomona and about a 30-minute drive from campus. Next season would be the third at Clover after the one-year return to Van Cortlandt Park in 2021 never got off the ground. The field at the public park didn’t meet NCAA standards.
The 2024 class of rising seniors started off their careers at VCP. Marinelli was part of that, but says the field situation is not a concern to him.
“We’re not worried about where we are playing as long as we are playing at our best,” Marinelli said. “In terms of the Manhattan project I think there is a lot of room for success.”
Under the bright lights at Clover, the players and coaches had to accept the hard reality that the end had come. Now, they could only hope that what was left behind was the best preview yet.