Meet Seth Maness, the Cardinals’ best all-around athlete
JUPITER, Fla. — If you were to pick the best all-around athlete on the Cardinals, you might start with someone such as Peter Bourjos, the fastest player on the team.
Or you might opt for Matt Holliday, their strongest player and a big-time quarterback recruit in high school.
Or you might go with the ace, Adam Wainwright, who was a select soccer player and all-star kicker, and who likes to think of himself as a pretty good golfer.
Or maybe Carlos Martinez, who throws 100-mph fastballs and pounces off the mound for slow rollers with the quickness and grace of Ozzie Smith. Martinez, in fact, grew up playing shortstop.
Kolten Wong, the power-packed, speedy second baseman who can perform a standing back flip on call, would make another good choice.
Keep looking down the roster and you might consider Sam Freeman, the former center fielder turned 95-mph-dealing lefty reliever who, per manager Mike Matheny, finished a close second to Bourjos in a short-sprint timed drill this week.
And while all those would make sound selections, none of them would be correct.
Not one of the above can match the all-around athletic skill set of right-handed reliever Seth Maness, who certainly doesn’t rank among the fastest or the strongest of the Cardinals.
But he can beat his teammates at just about any game that doesn’t require footspeed or brute strength.
Start with golf. He says he’s about a 5 handicap and according to Matheny, Maness just this week shot a 75 at Juno Beach’s Seminole Golf Club, which is considered one of the top courses in the world. "Toughest course I’ve ever seen," Matheny said.
Then there’s bowling. At Jon Jay’s charity event this offseason, Maness rolled a 220 even though he said he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been on the lanes. "Wainwright was giving me a hard time about that," he said.
And, not surprisingly for a North Carolinian, there’s basketball. Maness says he "could shoot it a little" when he averaged about 14 points and helped Pinecrest (N.C.) High School reach the state tournament his senior year. Teammate and roommate Michael Wacha even claims Maness was recruited by North Carolina.
"Yeah, Roy Williams used to come watch him play," Wacha said with a straight face. "I’ve seen his highlights."
Well, Wacha either was being a wise guy or trying to set up his teammate for a little embarrassment. Maness, turning a little red-faced when confronted, said he did not have a chance to hoop for the Tar Heels. But he admits to having NBA 3-point range and being able to dunk in high school, not too bad for a 6-footer. "I really miss basketball," he said.
Basketball actually cost Maness part of his senior year in baseball. A week after Pinecrest was eliminated in basketball, he said he pitched an eight-inning game in 35-degree weather and hurt his back. He still played well enough to earn a scholarship to East Carolina — primarily to play shortstop or second. He turned to pitching full-time near the end of fall season his freshman year.
"We had a weekend guy get released and I had been throwing the ball well and I stepped into that weekend spot and the rest was history," said Maness, who later earned a degree in accounting at ECU. He also became the first four-time all-conference player in Conference USA history.
Maness also rules in such pastimes as darts and corn-hole challenges (bean-bag tossing) as well as computer games such as Candy Crush. In other words, if he wants to play you in any game that requires hand-eye coordination, you probably should keep your money in your pocket.
Let’s not forget that he’s forging a nice career at his main game, too. Maness was the first of the team’s rookie influx of pitchers called up in 2013 and he has stayed in the majors since, posting a 2.66 ERA in 139 appearances covering 142 1/3 innings. That makes him fifth in appearances, sixth in innings and eighth in ERA among NL relievers who don’t close.
Heck, Maness also was the only player on the Cardinals last year with a .400 batting average. Granted, he batted only five times, but it’s not like relievers take much, if any, batting practice, either. If Maness ever returns to starting, as he did until he reached the majors, "He’d be one of the tougher outs as a pitcher in the league, I guarantee you," Matheny said.
Maness, 26, says his athleticism always came easy. Because he wasn’t the biggest kid, he said he figured out early how to win with precision. His father cut down a set of golf clubs for him as a tot and "they say I could always hit it straight." By middle school, he was beating his buddies so regularly in whatever games they played that he started to figure out that he might have a gift.
"I’m very blessed," he said. "That’s what it is. I’m very fortunate."
Pondering the best-athlete question, Matheny reels off several players after Martinez, including Pete Kozma, Randal Grichuk, Freeman and Tyler Lyons, who finished just behind Bourjos and Freeman in the short sprints. Then the skipper brings up Maness.
"He can do it all," Matheny said.
And most of it better than anyone else on the Cardinals.