SS Manzella gets his chance with Astros

BY foxsports • February 27, 2010

Considering what Tommy Manzella has already overcome to get this far, proving he's capable of being the Houston Astros' shortstop must not seem too tough.

The 26-year-old rookie arrived at spring training expected to be a regular after a steady climb through the minors.

The Astros did not re-sign Miguel Tejada in the offseason, creating the opening for Manzella to show what he can do. He's played in only two major-league games, but he's confident that he's got what it takes now to make it in the big leagues.

``This is my opportunity,'' Manzella said Friday. ``At some point, you have to step up and bring your game to the next level, and change from someone who could get it done to someone who does get it done.''

Houston has no questions about Manzella's character or maturity.

He showed how well he could handle adversity as a freshman at Tulane in 2002, when his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Manzella hit his first college home run on the day he found out.

``She got the ball and took it to her chemo treatments and everything,'' Manzella said. ``Just to see what she went through without complaining about everything, that's something I grasp a lot of strength on.''

The Astros drafted him in 2005 and two months later, Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast and destroyed his family's home in Chalmette, a New Orleans suburb. Manzella was playing a game in Massachusetts for the Astros' short-season affiliate in upstate New York when he got a text message from his mother, telling him what happened.

``They were in Georgia and they had gotten a text from some of our neighbors who were on top of their roof,'' Manzella said. ``They texted them from their roof and said there was 10 feet of water.''

His mother died in June 2008, just after Manzella found out he'd been promoted to the franchise's Triple-A affiliate in Round Rock. He hit .219 but committed only three errors in 61 games that season, and was back at spring training in 2009.

Manzella soon realized that he thought about his mother more when he struggled than when he succeeded.

``When you get to a situation where your back's against the wall, a situation where I'm supposed to come through and I don't come through, that's the kind of situation when I need her more,'' he said, ``because that's the kind of situation that reminds me where I came from and who I am as a person and how I want to be known.''

Manzella made his major-league debut last September after posting a .977 fielding percentage in 130 games with Round Rock in 2009. He learned all he could, asking Tejada for guidance and watching the work habits of opposing shortstops.

The Astros expect Manzella to be a defensive upgrade from Tejada, who committed 21 errors last season, second in the NL behind San Diego's Everth Cabrera (23). But the Astros may have to sacrifice some offense to take advantage of Manzella's glove.

Last year, Tejada led the Astros with a .313 average in 2009, led the NL with 46 doubles and ranked second in hits (199). Manzella hit .289 with nine homers and 56 RBIs at Triple-A Round Rock last season, and bristles at the notion that he's only here because of his well-regarded fielding skills.

``No one wants to hear that he's just a defensive player and he's just trying to get by with his bat,'' Manzella said. ``I take a lot of pride in the work I do offensively, and I put in more work there. I need to keep on it, just to make sure it stays sharp.''

But Manzella said everything else is in place for the start of his major-league career, starting with the confidence and the experience.

``It's something that I prepared for the whole offseason and really, that I've prepared for over the last four years,'' he said. ``Just getting different opportunities to play as I continued my progression through the minors, it's all helped me develop a belief in my abilities and how that would translate to the major-league level.''

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