BY CATIE CURRIE — The batter from the Beltsville-Adelphi Boys and Girls Club grounded the ball to Hyattsville pitcher Evan Cantelas, who fielded it cleanly and threw the runner out at first. The Hyattsville-Mt. Rainier-Brentwood Boys and Girls Club (HMB) T-ball team had retired the side without giving up a run, and Coach Chris McManes quickly corralled his players into line and led them in a cheer of “Good game, Beltsville!” before sending them out for the customary post-game congratulations of the other players.
“We don’t keep score,” said McManes, now in his eighth year of coaching the HMB Tigers. “It’s designed to help children learn the game and be good sports.”
Although runs aren’t counted, spectators can see that HMB’s team usually plays better. When Michael Hanby, whose son played for rival St. Jerome’s, noticed “how well Chris’ kids were learning the game,” he signed with McManes.
“He runs one of the best practices I’ve seen at any kids’ level,” said Hanby. “We figured, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, though it felt a little like we were selling our souls to go play for the Yankees.”
One of McManes’ own three children has been on his team every year but one. Now, his youngest, Tyler, is playing his last year of eligibility. And McManes (pronounced “McMains”) is hanging up his cleats.
During his tenure, first as an assistant coach, then head coach, he has built up the team from struggling for survival to what some regard as the premier program in the region. He recruited so many new players to the game that last year, for the first time in five years, HMB fielded two teams. This year, with a total of 28 children on two teams, McManes relies on head coach Michael Adams and assistant coaches Branden Hall, Chris Davidson and Chris Currie.
Since McManes started coaching, the local T-ball league has expanded from four teams to 10 and changed some of its rules to make the game more like baseball. When he started, players could remain on base even if tagged out. That, he says, changed for two reasons: to teach players that they have to run their hardest to stay in the game, and to reward the defense. The next step was to allow runners to take more than one base on a hit.
McManes, who grew up in the area, is no stranger to HMB. In fact, the first time he played baseball was on an HMB team. He later played for the PG Select Blue Sox, which is the Boys and Girls Clubs’ version of an All-Star team, and then at Northwestern High School.
“Baseball is a great game, and T-ball teaches basic fundamentals,” said McManes. “I would like to see every child try it for one year.”
He also thinks it is a great game to coach. Even though it is sometimes stressful trying to get to games on time from his public-relations job in Washington, D.C., he says, the fun of coaching keeps him going.
His favorite part is the little one-on-one chat he has with each player while warming them up before their time at bat. He says he loves to see them play and tells the team that the better they play, the more fun they will have.
What’s next for Coach McManes? With his son and several of his other players graduating to baseball — and also being students at St. Jerome Academy — McManes wouldn’t be surprised if he ends up wearing a coach’s uniform again next year, but for crosstown rival St. Jerome, which didn’t have a coach this year.
Catie Currie, 13, played on Coach McManes’ first T-ball team. This is her first article for the HL&T.