Mantiply returns to Blacksburg to reach third milestone in 15 months

BLACKSBURG – There will be close to 20 current Virginia Tech student-athletes who will collect their degrees when the university holds its 2017 Fall Commencement Ceremony in Cassell Coliseum on Thursday. Former Tech pitcher Joe Mantiply is not included in that number, but he also will walk across the stage Thursday after earning his bachelor’s of science degree in apparel, housing, and research management.

For those who may have forgotten him, Mantiply was one of the six Hokies chosen in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft, a major contributor for the team that made a run to the 2013 ACC Baseball Championship game and helped the team serve as host to its first NCAA Regional. Chad Pinder, another one of those 2013 draft selections, finished his degree as well, and graduated last December.

For Mantiply, the past 15 months are ones he will never forget. On Sept. 3, 2016, he made his Major League debut for the Detroit Tigers, and just a few months later, he married his college girlfriend, Ella Miller. A little more than a year later, he earns his degree from Tech.

“I have to say getting married is No. 1 on that list,” Mantiply said. “My wife, I met while I was in school here, and she’s a physical therapist, so she’s very studious and a lot smarter than I am. So she was probably the main one to push me to finish school and make sure I get it done.

“My Major League debut was just incredible. It’s what every young kid dreams of, so being able to do that was great. Then being able to finish school, all that within a year, is pretty crazy. I feel like I’m knocking some things off my list and just growing up a little bit.

“I was just one semester away from finishing everything, and as part of a fallback plan – you can’t play baseball forever. I worked hard to get where I was in my degree, and to be able to come back and finish, it was an accomplishment I also wanted to do.”

When Mantiply was chosen by the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 draft – which also marked the third time he had been drafted – he left Blacksburg 15 credits short of his degree.

A typical baseball season starts in mid-February and runs through a good part of September, which made it difficult for him to return, knowing that he’d have to miss a good portion of either semester he would attend.

“Having to coordinate with professors and getting the OK to miss some work and miss some time was probably the hardest hurdle to jump over when trying to come back,” Mantiply said. “Picking the right time was tough as well because you’re always hoping to be in the big leagues, but you aren’t done until October or longer, so then it’s really hard to get everything in.

“Then, it was a little weird getting back into the idea of doing work and sitting in a classroom. It’s been almost four years now since I was in school, so it was a bit different, being around students who really aren’t my peers, just being around a lot younger students. I was probably four years older than the oldest person in the most of my classes, so that was a little bit of an adjustment, but I got over that.”

Ironically, after making his MLB debut, the past 15 months of Mantiply’s professional career has seen some twists and turns. He was claimed off waivers by the New York Yankees on Nov. 8, 2016, but was released 20 days later before signing a minor league contract with them in December.

He spent the entire 2017 season with the Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRaiders and was quite successful – a 6-5 record, with a save, a 2.83 ERA in 70.0 innings with 62 strikeouts. However, he elected for free agency on Nov. 6 and was signed by the Cincinnati Reds a week later.

“It’s a good move because there are a lot of opportunities there,” Mantiply said. “That was kind of my goal going into free agency. My main concern is a big league opportunity. I had a great year with New York, and I loved that organization, but the opportunity at the Major League level is just not really there for many younger guys.

“The Yankees are a great organization, with great prospects, but the opportunity with the Reds was the best. I have been invited to spring training, and I haven’t gotten all the details yet, but typically it starts in middle of February.”

Before heading to Arizona for spring training, though, Mantiply will check Virginia Tech degree off his list of accomplishments, and when he picks up that diploma as he walks across the stage, he’ll have a sizeable fan base in attendance.

“My parents are super-excited,” he said. “I’m the third child, so the third one to graduate from college, and they are pretty pumped to be able to put three kids through school. They’ll be here, my grandparents will be here, my aunt and uncle, my in-laws, so I’m going to have a big crowd.”

Tech’s 2017 Fall Commencement Ceremony will begin Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

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