By Peter Nakos
OhioBobcats.com Feature Writer
ATHENS, Ohio — It's a sunny afternoon in the summer and school hasn't started yet, which means Jeremy Manley is trying to kill some time.
He's sucking on a green, sour apple lollipop at his desk, while leaning back in his chair trying to figure out how to work his email so he can send out the team's Fall schedule. Wearing his usual Ohio Bobcats t-shirt, a braided camouflage ionic necklace hangs from his neck.
The New Zealander may be thinking back to the Bobcats losses in last season's Mid-American Conference Tournament championship round, which ended their hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth. He may also be thinking back to the past month or so, when he pitched for Team USA in the men's softball World Championship.
It's been a whirlwind of a year for him. Along with those two major softball events he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen and his wife gave birth to their second child, a son.
"I've had to earn whatever I've gotten in life," Manley said. "Nothing has ever been handed to me. You can't look too far ahead, because as soon as you do, you're down 0-2."
In the office inside The Convocation Center, Manley is an assistant coach. He loves his job, but he didn't get into softball because of coaching.
Instead, he grew up as softball player, his family helped grow the game of softball in his homeland. His uncle created a team when he was a teenager after watching a movie on Mickey Mantle. The club ran for over 20 years; his mother, father, brother, aunts and uncles all played for the team.
"I was the bat boy for years," Manley said. "My brother and I ended up playing on that team, once they shut down we needed to move to a bigger pond."
Move they did, as the two commuted two hours down the coast to play in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. He stayed there from the age of 17 until 2010.
Along with playing for Wellington, he represented his country, playing for the Black Sox, the New Zealand Men's National Team. He led them to the International Softball Federation Men's Fastpitch World Series title in 2013, where he earned the Kevin Herlihy Memorial Trophy for Most Valuable Pitcher.
This past winter, Manley made his way up to Columbus, where he participated in a naturalization ceremony. What drove him to do this was his daughter, who was born here in the U.S. He wanted to represent her in the upcoming world championship. He had reached out to manager Gregg Leather about the possibility of playing for Team USA. Leather didn't have to think about it twice.
"From the time I've been in men's fastpitch, which has been the last 15 or so years, Jeremy has been one of the elite pitchers in the game," Leather said of Manley. "I think he's almost downplaying his own role a little bit. I don't think the U.S. program had won a playoff game in the ISF since 2009, and we beat silver medalist Australia 1-0. Jeremy got the win in that game.
"A lot of people from other countries came up to us and to say that this was the most competitive USA team they had seen in a long time. Jeremy had a lot to do with that."
Manley pitched 12.2 innings in the tournament, striking out 14 batters with a 4.42 ERA and a 2-1 record. His impact could be seen as a coach too, as he helped mentor some younger pitchers on the staff, teaching a lot of things in just a week's span.
For now, he's moved on from this summer, back into the realm of coaching. While trying to figure out the ins and outs of recruiting, he'll try to help head coach Jodi Hermanek piece together key losses from the 2016 graduating class.
A pitcher while playing professionally, Manley spends most of his time with hitters at Ohio. Leather thinks it might even be better for the Bobcats, he likens Manley to Clayton Kershaw coming into throw batting practice every day. Hermanek isn't taking him for granted either.
"His approach and the simple style he offers to a batter from a pitcher's perspective was really intriguing," Hermanek said. "We brought him in to specifically help with hitters, but its evolved to him being a big facet of our bullpen, too."
Back in The Convo, Manley is finishing up his lollipop. With a little help, he's also figured out how to shoot off the email.
Nobody would know that one of the best pitchers to ever touch the softball was just hanging out, but that's how he wants it to be.
Softball is his way of taking on life, one batter at a time.
"I live life just how I try to play softball, mate" he said. "I just take it one at-bat at a time. Stay in the moment and know where your feet are."