Sean Manaea follows strict routines designed to maximize starts in the A's rotation, but such regimentation doesn’t extend to all aspects of his life. The left-hander freely admits he isn’t much of a planner outside baseball, which is how he ended wandering through Australia in 2018.
Manaea traveled across the globe on a whim, all by himself.
“That was really the first time I ventured outside the country on my own,” Manaea said. “I loved it. It was awesome. I didn’t have to listen to anybody. I just traveled and immersed myself in the culture.”
That experience was strictly for fun. This last offseason trip abroad had a purpose.
Manaea needed a hard reset only distance could provide. The 28-year-old had just wrapped a season saturated in stress, most of it spent rehabilitating a shoulder injury that kept him out a calendar year. Then came a triumphant return, with five dominant starts spent on top of the world.
The AL Wild Card Game sent him crashing back to earth. The Tampa Bay Rays rocked Manaea in a 5-1 victory that ended the A’s season, driving him from the game with four earned runs on three jacks in two-plus innings. A 97-win season came to a crashing halt, fortifying the A’s horrid reputation in elimination games.
Manaea swore he would help buck a bad trend and couldn’t, saying the loss was "solely on me." Failure stuck with him against his will, try as he might to move on from a bad moment. That’s when he decided, on a whim, to stuff one backpack -- yeah, that’s all he brought -- and get out of his own head.
Manaea spent a month in in Southeast Asia, far away from the game and his haunting mistakes. He took a companion to Maldives before wandering through Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia alone.
“I wanted to get lost and see how that side of the world works,” Manaea said. “That was a reason why I wanted to take off, but I also wanted to get baseball out of my head. I was thinking about it too much and needed to back away and reset some things.”
Manaea can afford to travel in style, to hire drivers and local fixers and stay in fancy hotels. That’s not his preferred mode of travel.
“I’m there for the experience of the place I’m in,” Manaea said. “I don’t have an interest in going somewhere else and then living a life of luxury. I want to experience the local culture, to get outside the cities and head for the villages and learn as much as I can about people in a different part of the world.”
Even while doing that, it still took a while to truly let go. Baseball left his head after a week or two, allowing him to properly recalibrate.
Manaea wasn’t longing to stay away forever. The month away left him recharged, rejuvenated, ready to come home and get back to the routines that make him a dominant pitcher when healthy.
“That was huge for me,” Manaea said. “I came back with a reignited passion for the game. I was really raring to go after I got back.”
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Manaea entered spring training ready to be a leader and dominant part of an excellent A’s rotation, with last year’s struggles now and forever in the rearview.
“The wild-card game sucked,” Manaea said. “It was really, really disappointing. After taking all this time off and getting so far away from everything, I slowly realized that I learned so much from it. I’m not happy about it but in a way, I’m glad that it happened. I don’t think I was mentally ready for that moment, but after this experience I feel like I can’t be beat.
"You get knocked down sometimes, but you get back up smarter and stronger.”