Editor's note: This story appeared in the August edition of the Manatees' gameday program "Sea Cow Splash".
The Dominican Republic is known for churning out baseball players. Many see baseball as their only way out of poverty. Santo Manzanillo, though, did not grow up dreaming of the Major Leagues. In fact, he did not even play baseball growing up. Manzanillo was 16 years old the first time that he picked up a baseball.
Santo Manzanillo grew up in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic and hometown of current big leaguers Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz and countless others. Manzanillo, who grew up in poverty, worked his entire life and never thought about playing baseball.
"If we wanted to buy anything, even t-shirts or shorts, we would have to work to buy them," Manzanillo said.
That all changed when he was 16.
Manzanillo was working on his uncleʼs farm growing sugar cane when Brewer scouts Fernando Arango and Fausto Sosa Pena came and visited him. He had been referred to Manzanillo by a former Brewer signee out of the Dominican Republic. After considering Santoʼs size and strength for his age, Arango and Sosa asked him if would be willing to attend a tryout. Manzanillo declined initially.
"I didnʼt know anything about baseball and I thought I was not going to make any money," Manzanillo said. "On the farm, I was making money, not too much, but it was money."
The two scouts decided to go to Manzanilloʼs parents. He spoke with Santoʼs father, mother and uncle, who decided that it was in his best interest to play baseball.
"My uncle came to me and said, ʻYou are too young for this life. Go make a different life for yourself.ʼ"
Manzanillo went to a ball field with the Brewers representatives and threw. The scouts were not expecting what the saw.
"I was pretty close to the catcher, and they told me to throw," Manzanillo explained. "They told me to throw, so I threw as hard as I could. They were like ʻNo, no! Not so hard! Start easier.ʼ"
It is needless to say that Arango and Pena liked what they saw. They took Manzanillo under their wings and began to teach him the mechanics of pitching.
"It didnʼt take them long to teach me, a couple of months. I already had a strong arm," Manzanillo said. "I was throwing bullpen, then long toss, bullpen, then long toss, to get all of my mechanics right."
After feeling comfortable to send Manzanillo to the mound, Santo pitched in an exhibition game at a tryout. He pitched well enough to be offered a contract from the Brewers.
"I threw twice at the tryouts, but it was just velocity, not really pitching," Manzanillo recalls of his performance. "I could throw 92 or 93, but in one of the games I threw one strike in like 15 or 20 pitches.
"They said they were going to sign me, but I didnʼt know anything about baseball, so it was going to be a slow process. I was told that I was not going to be expensive, but I said ʻokay, I just want to sign.ʼ"
The money that Manzanillo would make was more than he ever imagined.
"When I got my first check, I went to cash it. I looked at it and was like ʻWhat is that?ʼ The bank told me to count it. I thought it was too much."
The next move was for Santo to get his visa and move to Arizona. He spent 2006 there working on his mechanics. Manzanillo struggled with his command, walking 47 batters in 16.1 innings. He slowly improved, though. Manzanilloʼs walk rate improved every season through the 2011 season.
He encountered a setback, though, as he missed the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Manzanillo did not show any ill effects though. He started 2011 with the Manatees but was promoted to the Double-A Huntsville Stars mid-season. He totaled 17 saves, 62 strikeouts, and a career low 3.8 BB/9 over 48 appearances.
Santo Manzanillo, however, faced another obstacle following the 2011 season. On November 29th, while traveling to the Brewers baseball complex in the Dominican Republic, Manzanillo was involved in a car accident. He suffered from a sprained throwing shoulder and lacerations.
"It was hard, so frustrating. The Brewers took care of me, though," he recalls. "They brought me back to the States and worked me out. Then they sent me to the Dominican to work at the complex there.
"I came back to the States for Major League Spring training camp and worked hard. They really took care of me, but it took a lot of hard work."
Unfortunately for Santo Manzanillo and the entire Brewers organization, Manzanillo has not been the same pitcher following the accident. His walk numbers increased and he struggled through the 2012 season. Manzanillo will not let it hold him back, though, from his new goal: to become a Major League pitcher.
"Iʼm a hard worker, thatʼs just who I am," Manzanillo said. "If I was still on the farm, Iʼd still be working as hard.
"Iʼll work wherever I am to get what I want. I want to play baseball, now, so Iʼm working for that."
From Santo Domingo to Milwaukee is a long journey, but Santo Manzanillo is on the right path.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.