There’s some irony that for all the talk of getting to Omaha over the years by the East Carolina baseball program, the city is currently home to former Pirate pitcher Seth Maness.
After four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals, the right-handed reliever is now in the Kansas City Royals organization with the Omaha Storm Chasers of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League.
Getting to Omaha has long been a goal for the baseball Pirates. Getting out of Omaha — and back to KC — would be OK with Maness.
“Things are going fine,” Maness said. “My stats aren’t great, but it’s been going a little bit better. I’ve got a few innings under my belt. I’m excited. I’m hoping to finish this year strong and move into next year.”
Maness underwent surgery to repair a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow a year ago today, Aug. 18, 2016. The procedure was an alternative to Tommy John surgery, which replaces the ligament but requires a longer period for recovery.
“Instead of replacing the UCL in the elbow, they kept mine and reinforced it with some kind of structural tape,” Maness said. “That’s the best I can describe it. … I shouldn’t have any more surgery.”
Maness got the call to the bullpen eight times with Kansas City this season. He was 1-0 with a 3.72 earned run average. He was sent to Omaha on July 7.
He is 1-2 with the Storm Chasers with an 8.27 ERA, going 1-for-2 in save opportunities.
Connected to ECU roots
Maness has stayed in touch with the East Carolina program.
“I’ve met Coach [Cliff] Godwin,” Maness said. “I stay in contact with the pitching coach, Coach [Dan] Roszel. I think he’s probably about all that’s left from when I was there.”
Maness set a freshman record for innings pitched at ECU in 2008 with 98 and one-third. In comparison, Trey Benton threw 71.0 innings for the Pirates as a first-year performer this past season.
Maness continued to eat up the innings at ECU, tossing 411 and two-thirds from 2008 to 2011. That tops the career chart for the Pirates. His 61 career starts and 38 wins are also school records.
From the Pirates to the majors
Maness was drafted in the 11th round in 2011 by the Cards and made his major league debut on May 3, 2013, with a hitless inning against Milwaukee.
He has an 18-10 record in the majors with a 3.21 ERA. He has the highest winning percentage in the majors by Pirates with double-figure wins. Bob Patterson has the most wins, going 39-40 in a 13-year career from 1985 to 1998.
Maness has a fast ball, breaking pitch and change-up.
“I’ve stayed pretty similar to what I’ve always done,” Maness said. “I try to attack the strike zone and make something happen. My fast ball isn’t as good as it was before the surgery. I’m honestly not 100 percent. I think it’s a couple of ticks down from what it used to be.”
Jonny Gomes’ three-run homer off Maness in game four of the 2013 World Series probably would rank as the low point of Maness’ career. The high point is more general.
“One game doesn’t stand out, it’s all the guys I grew up watching,” Maness said. “Getting the chance to be on the same field as them, the guys that I admired, sharing the field with them. Seeing them and being able to interact with them.
“Rafael Furcal. I grew up a big Braves fan, watching him come up when he was a young guy. My first year in the big leagues, he wasn’t playing but he was on the Cardinals roster. He was injured. Being able to be in the same locker room. I loved to watch him play.”
Maness blazed a relatively-recent trail to MLB that has subsequently been followed by former Pirate pitchers Chris Heston, Mike Wright, Shawn Armstrong, Jharel Cotton and Jeff Hoffman.
“I try to stay in contact with [Kyle] Roller, Seth Simmons, Michael Wright, Shawn Armstrong, Chris Heston and the guys that I was at ECU with,” Maness said. “Then you’ve got Cotton and Hoffman. I’m actually playing with a guy who was committed to East Carolina, who’s in the big leagues right now, Cam Gallagher, a catcher. He would have been at East Carolina, which is kind of cool. I played minor league ball with him.”
Maness’ coach at ECU, Billy Godwin, is now a scout with the New York Yankees.
“He knew what he was doing, recruiting-wise,” Maness said. “He had the eye for it. . . . The confidence that him and Bill Jarman (former ECU pitching coach), who were there my first three years, and Coach Roszel, who came in my last year, had in me helped me have confidence in myself. They gave you confidence, putting you in the right situations and letting your natural abilities take over.”
Maness wasn’t sure what happened to ECU baseball in 2017, when the Pirates had a series of key injuries after being ranked as high as No. 6 in the preseason.
“I don’t have a good feel for it, just because I’m so far removed from it,” Maness said. “I can only go off what I read and follow them. Box scores only tell so much of what’s really going on. From what I hear, they have a lot of talent. It’s just getting the guys to produce and do what they’re capable of doing.”
Trip to CWS
The Omaha Royals, who preceded the Storm Chasers, played at Rosenblatt Stadium, the former home of the College World Series. The Triple-A club now plays at Werner Park, about 16 miles southwest of Omaha in the suburb of Papillion. The CWS is played at TD Ameritrade Park, which seats 24,000. Werner Park has a capacity of 9,023, which includes a section of berm.
“There’s not much around where we play, but downtown, where they play the College World Series is pretty cool,” Maness said. “The downtown area is pretty nice.”
Maness saw Florida State and LSU play this year in the CWS.
“We had an off day and I had a chance to go to a game,” Maness said. “It was definitely a bucket-list thing for me. It was super cool.”
More golf in offseason
The offseason is likely just a few weeks away for Maness. He said there is a “slim chance” of a call-up to Kansas City.
“Probably not likely this year,” Maness said. “I’m probably going to have a little longer offseason this year. We finish up Sept. 4, so I’m going to come back to North Carolina. I’ll hopefully be in Wilmington, staying there. I’m going to try to make it back to the ECU alumni golf tournament. I think it’s Sept. 15 and go to that Virginia Tech game.
“I’m a big Pirate fan, win or lose. I’m excited. I don’t know a whole lot about them, what they’ve got or whatever. I go for the support and have a good time at the football games.”
The gridiron Pirates and Maness are both looking to return to a higher standard.
“I’m close to what I used to be,” Maness said. “It’s just right there on the edge. There’s some signs of it, but it’s not the consistency that I used to have. I’m trying to get that back. One outing at a time and we’ll see what happens. I’ll work on building some strengths, but it’s mainly just getting some reps in — trying to get it back moving how it used to.”
Maness will be a player to watch in the alumni golf. The Pinehurst native shoots in the mid-70s.
“I try to keep that pretty sharp,” he said. ” . . . I like to play. I really don’t get a chance to play a lot during the season, a couple of scramble tournaments, but not a whole lot of golf.”
Maness worked at the course that is now Pinehurst No. 9 as he was growing up.
“I mowed greens at Pinehurst No. 2 the first year I was drafted,” he said.
Maybe hitting the smaller ball has helped Maness during his occasional appearances in the batter’s box in the majors.
He’s 3-for-14 as a hitter in the big leagues for a .214 average, which is not bad for a pitcher.