What’s the first place that comes to mind when you think of recruiting bases for Manhattan College baseball?
New York? New Jersey? Long Island? Sure, they all fall into the category of the usual recruiting haunts, and players from those locales do dot the Jaspers roster.
But to find Manhattan’s other hot recruiting spot you’d have to hop on Interstate 95 South … and settle in for a long ride.
When you enter the land of the Waffle House and Cracker Barrel, you’re getting warmer. When the Stop and Shop supermarkets are replaced by Winn-Dixie and Publix, you’re almost there.
Finally, if you were brave (crazy?) enough to make the 20-hour drive straight through, you have now entered area code 305, Miami — home of South Beach, ocean breezes and one of the most fertile baseball regions in the nation.
Manhattan’s recruiting pipeline to South Florida got its start under former coach Steve Tripper, now the head coach at Stetson University in central Florida, and it continued under Tripper’s successor, Kevin Leighton, now the head baseball coach at Fordham.
But current Jaspers head coach Jim Duffy has kept the recruiting lines open, and he has enjoyed a large amount of success from his forays into Miami.
Two of his more recent recruits enjoyed breakout years at Manhattan with former player Christian Santiseban being named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season while sophomore catcher Fabian Peña was tabbed as the conference’s rookie of the year last season as well as the MAAC preseason player of the year this season.
Toss in senior infielder Jose Carrera, who finished in the top five of five different offensive categories in the conference last season while also batting a robust .444 in the MAAC Tournament, and you can see why Manhattan goes to the Miami recruiting well time and time again.
“It was something I inherited, and it was my job to keep it going,” Duffy said of the pipeline. “When I got here at 2012, there were four or five guys on the roster from South Florida. There are just some really good baseball people down there that we have good relationships with, and they really care about these kids and the opportunity and the education they can get here at Manhattan College.”
You would think a player born and raised in Florida would be in no hurry to leave the mild temperatures for the unpredictable weather of the Northeast. But for Carrera, it was a chance to break away from his comfort zone and experience life outside the palm trees.
“I just wanted a good experience,” Carrera said. “I know the weather is a little messy sometimes and you have to adjust to a different environment, but I wanted to get out of Florida I was getting to a point where I was doing the same thing over and over. I wanted to see myself without my parents. I wanted to grow up and be a better man.”
Carrera was pivotal in helping Manhattan land Peña as the two were teammates for a season at St. Brendan’s High School in Miami.
“Jose told me it was like a family up here,” Peña said. “Everyone got along with each other and the coaches cared for the players. You were not just a number to them.”
It is that word of mouth, Duffy said, that helps keep the Miami players coming to Manhattan.
“Many times with baseball recruiting in South Florida, they kind of recruit themselves,” Duffy said. “The reason why is it has to do with Manhattan College and Manhattan baseball where the South Florida kids before (Peña) have come up here and they had a good experience. The ones that have been here for four years get a degree and they play high-quality Division I baseball, and they have a chance to win every year.
“They have a good experience at Manhattan College and that word gets back.”
After Carrera helped lure Peña to Riverdale, Peña returned the favor by helping Manhattan land talented freshman infielder Alex Cerda as the pipeline continues to flow.
“Fabian helped out a lot with me getting recruited here,” Cerda said. “He told me they play very good Division I baseball here, there were a lot of chances to play, and the academics here were very good.”
While the final call on recruiting sits squarely with Duffy, he doesn’t mind having some built-in recruiters on his roster.
“I’m the facilitator,” Duffy said. “I’m the one who kind of drives the engine from the administrative standpoint, and in making the (scholarship) offers and things like that. But the kids really do feed off themselves.”
Both Cerda and Carrera said there were some adjustments to be made when they got to Riverdale, mostly getting used to the New York weather. But neither regrets leaving South Beach for the North Bronx.
“It’s been a great opportunity to experience new things,” Cerda said. “I’ve been down to the city a couple of times and went to Times Square and drove down past the Statue of Liberty a few times. I’m learning the ropes.”
For Carrera, a senior, it’s been a great four-year ride.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” Carrera said. “I wouldn’t change it one bit. It’s been more than what I expected. I made a great choice coming here.”