By STEVE KRAH
Austin Mannan has found his “why” and he pursues it on a daily basis as an educator and coach.
“I felt like I’ve had so many people pour their time and effort into me,” says Mannan, a special education teacher at Lane Middle School in Fort Wayne, Ind., and the head baseball coach at Fort Wayne North Side High School. “I have a duty to give that back to kids.
“I want to change somebody’s life. At the end of the day I don’t care what kind of baseball player you are, I want you to be a better person than when you got to me.
“I want them to look back and say he really cared about me. He really went the extra mile.”
Mannan has embraced his mindset and takes a cue from motivational speaker Eric Thomas, who asks “What’s Your Why?”
“Everybody has a reason to get out of bed everyday,” says Mannan. “You have to decide what that motivation is and what you can do to get there.
“(North Side) is an inner-city school. These kids have challenging backgrounds. We want to help them to be a better person.”
North Side (enrollment around 1,600) is a member of the Summit Athletic Conference (with Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Fort Wayne Concordia Lutheran, Fort Wayne Northrop, Fort Wayne Snider, Fort Wayne South Side and Fort Wayne Wayne).
The Legends are part of an IHSAA Class 4A sectional grouping with Columbia City, Fort Wayne South Side, Fort Wayne Wayne, Homestead and Huntington North. North Side is seeking its first sectional title.
Zach McKinstry is a 2014 North Side graduate. The middle infielder made his Major League Baseball debut for the eventual World Series-winning Los Angeles Dodgers Sept. 16, 2020.
North Side plays its home games at Carrington Field, located in Daryl B. Cobin Memorial Park on Coliseum Boulevard and about five miles from the school.
With high schools in Fort Wayne Community Schools going from 9:10 a.m. to 4:10 p.m., games generally do not start before 5.
Also the home of the Fort Wayne Baseball Federation‘s Jackers, Carrington Field underwent renovations that the Legends did not get to enjoy in 2020 with the prep season being wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s pretty nice,” says Mannan, who notes that many previous games at Carrington were wiped out when it rained.
Eight seniors were on the 2020 roster, including college recruits in left-handed pitcher Max Meisner (Huntington University), shortstop Cameron Woehnker (Grace College) and hurler Taegan Armey (Indiana Tech).
Mannan’s 2021 assistants are Jordan Young, Toni Georgi and Armey, who developed an arm injury that caused him to shut it down rather than play college ball.
North Side junior right-hander Nate Spurlock has been getting attention from college programs.
Mannan, who was born and raised in Putnam County, Ind., and played at Cloverdale (Ind.) High School before Lincoln Trail College (Robinson, Ill.), Spoon River College (Canton, Ill.) and the University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne). Until middle school, he split his time between third base and catcher. From high school on, he was a catcher.
Bryan Archer was Mannan’s high school head coach.
“I owe a lot to the person and player I am to him,” says Mannan, a 2013 Cloverdale graduate. “He never let feel sorry for myself. He just pushed, pushed, pushed.”
Spoon River head coach Ron Clark, who died in 2016, was an old school coach who embraced the fundamentals.
“By doing the little things right all the time that would lead to big things,” says Mannan. “My coaches were all fundamental guys. You can’t over-due fundamentals.
“I’ve broken down every aspect to try to give (North Side players) a solid foundation.”
A relationship built with Manny Lopez, owner of The Diamond Baseball and Softball Academy in Fort Wayne, Mannan has been able to get indoor reps for his North Side players.
“We made huge strides,” says Mannan. “Last year was going to be a our ‘back on the map year.’”
Mannan appreciates the way Lopez deals with the North Side kids.
“Manny tells them you can thank me when you make it,” says Mannan. “He understands what my kids go through on a day-to-day basis.
“I’ve never forgotten that.”
Besides being an assistant at Woodlan Junior/Senior High School (Woodburn, Ind.) while doing his student teaching, Mannan has coached the Northern Indiana Elite, Chicago 29ers and Fort Wayne Diamondbacks in summer ball. He is currently a 16U coach for the Diamondbacks.
As a player, Mannan got to know the junior college baseball grind from two head coaches — Kevin Bowers at Lincoln Trail and Clark at Spoon River.
“As a JuCo Bandit you’re a grinder,” says Mannan. “You’re putting in the work and getting after it.
“The grind of being a junior college player is incredible. You become so tough playing at that level.”
A typical schedule began with conditioning at 5 a.m., followed by classes, practice, study table and more practice with it all winding up about 10 p.m. Then the same thing the next day.
To get in games against top early-season competition, the team would cram 10 players each in three vans and drive 14 hours to Texas. Meal money was capped at $5 a day.
Junior college baseball is full of potential professional players and they are all MLB First Year Player Draft-eligible.
Two of Mannan’s Lincoln Trail teammates — Damon Olds (Kansas City Royals out of Indiana State University) and Justin Watts (Toronto Blue Jays out of the University of Southern Indiana) — were drafted in 2017.
In Mannan’s LTC recruiting class, 10 of 13 went on to NCAA Division I programs. Two went to NCAA Division II.
After a year at Spoon River (2014-15), Mannan landed at NAIA Saint Francis for two years (2015-16 and 2016-17). Greg Roberts was the Cougars head coach and his successor, Dustin Butcher, was an assistant.
Mannan, who also played summer ball for the Danville (Va.) Marlins in 2015 and Laramie (Wyo.) Colts in 2016, was honorable mention all-Crossroads League in the spring of 2016.
At Saint Francis, Mannan earned a Secondary Education degree in 2018 and a Masters in Special Education in 2020.
It was by coming to Fort Wayne that Mannan met an Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne student from Crown Point, Ind., named Adalyn.
Austin and Adalyn Mannan were married in September 2020. She is a manager at Planet Fitness.
“We were supposed to go on our honeymoon during Christmas break,” says Mannan. Instead, the couple had a bout with COVID. Austin spent a week in the hospital. Except for occasional shortness of breath, he says that has recovered.