It was a dream that was conceived on the Little League fields of Coeur d’Alene. That’s where Kyle Manzardo and a group of 8- and 9-year-old teammates first hatched the idea of playing baseball professionally.
“Little League in Coeur d’Alene’s kind of where I really found my love for the game,” Manzardo said, “and really decided that I wanted to do it as long as I could.”
A far-fetched idea started to become a realistic one over the past two years and a dream that doesn’t pan out for most who chase it materialized for Manzardo on Monday. While the Washington State first baseman sat nervously on a couch in Coeur d’Alene, Manzardo’s agent was on the phone with various Major League Baseball clubs trying to negotiate the best deal for his client.
At approximately 11 a.m., it was Manzardo’s turn to get a call. Just before the San Diego Padres picked at No. 62, Manzardo’s agent phoned. The WSU player was on deck.
“He called me up and he was just like, ‘Hey, the Rays are taking you at 63,’” Manzardo said. “The Rays’ countdown had already started at 40 seconds and I see the yellow banner come across and it says, ‘The pick’s in.’ I kind of just waited, they announced my name and it was super crazy.
“Everyone was yelling, I kind of gave my family members that were there hugs. Hands were shaken, my mom was crying. It was a pretty powerful moment.”
Manzardo, who made plenty of dents in the WSU history books during a three-year tenure with the Cougars, made another on the second day of the 2021 MLB draft.
The selection by Tampa Bay makes Manzardo the highest-drafted position player from WSU since Scott Hatteberg – another first baseman who played 14 major-league seasons for three organizations from 1995-2008 – was taken No. 43 overall in the 1991 MLB draft.
Speaking to the significance of that, Manzardo told The Spokesman-Review in a phone interview, “It’s an amazing feeling. I think it really speaks to the way the program’s developing at Washington State.”
The Manzardo-led Cougars had their first winning season – not including the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season – since 2015, going 26-23 while winning four Pac-12 series and 13 conference games.
“I really think five years from now Washington State will be one of the better teams in the (Pac-12),” Manzardo said. “It’s super cool to be able to just say and know I came to Washington State when the program was down pretty bad, kind of was able to see the start of the fire I guess, so you could say.”
Manzardo, who was projected to be taken anywhere from the second to sixth round, is the highest-drafted WSU player since pitcher Adam Conley (No. 72 in 2011). He also becomes the highest player drafted from the city of Coeur d’Alene.
A second WSU player, pitcher Zane Mills, was drafted Monday, being taken in the fourth round by the St. Louis Cardinals with the 120th selection. Mills was widely expected to be drafted, but one website, BaseballAmerica.com tabbed him as just the No. 434 overall prospect.
Manzardo and Mills, who Manzardo described as “best friends,” became the first pair of WSU teammates selected in the first four rounds of the MLB draft since 1991, when Aaron Sele and Hatteberg achieved the feat together. The two also were teammates on the Portland Pickles while playing summer baseball in the West Coast League.
“I’ve spoke with him pretty briefly,” Manzardo said. “One of the things nobody really tells you about is how many messages you get when something like this happens. My phone’s been blowing up a good amount throughout the day. … But me and Zane talked pretty briefly and we congratulated each other. Super happy for him, man, he’s definitely earned it.”
A former Idaho Class 5A champion at Lake City, Manzardo became one of the most productive offensive players in the Pac-12 Conference during his three years at WSU. He’s less than a month removed from being named to Collegiate Baseball’s All-America first team after finishing the regular season ranked fourth in the Pac-12 in hitting (.365), third in slugging (.640), second in RBI (60), tied for third in doubles (19), tied for ninth in home runs (11) and fourth in total bases (126).
Manzardo became the first WSU player since Jim Murphy in 2008 to record 60 RBI and he led WSU in multi-hit games (24) and multi-RBI games (17). In conference games, Manzardo’s 13 doubles led the Pac-12 and he tied for seventh in RBI with 26.
Manzardo, whose father still coaches at Lake City and whose younger brother Marcus is an up-and-coming baseball prospect in Coeur d’Alene, credited WSU’s baseball program for his development both on the diamond and away from it.
“I think the biggest thing was probably the maturity aspect,” Manzardo said. “Kind of grew a lot mentally, kind of started thinking the game a little differently. Coach (Brian) Green kind of helped me figure out a real approach for college baseball, an approach I could stick to and believe in. We cleaned up some mechanical issues when I got there and those were kind of the reasons I was able to have so much success these last two years.”
It’s unclear which branch of the Rays organization he’ll start his pro career with, but Manzardo anticipates he’ll travel to Florida in approximately a week for a preliminary physical. Though he wouldn’t disclose a dollar amount for the contract he’ll be signing, Manzardo did say “It wasn’t $1.7, $1.6 million or whatever the slot was. It was a little bit lower, but I definitely got a good amount of money that I’m happy with.”
Mills was the highest WSU pitcher drafted since Conley in 2011 and becomes the sixth Cougar drafted by the Cardinals. The WSU ace finished his junior season eighth in the Pac-12 in innings (80.1) and strikeouts (83) and was second on the Cougars in victories (five).
A Portland product, Mills was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week twice after strong outings against Seattle University and California and worked five-plus innings in 10 of his 13 starts, including a complete-game victory against Cal.
One other WSU player, pitcher Brandon White, is projected to be selected when the draft resumes Tuesday.