John Denton's Knights Insider: An Eventful Ride for the Manning Family

May 10, 2010

By John Denton

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920th Rescue Wing

ORLANDO, Fla. (UCFAthletics.com) - Col. Philip Manning has flown wartime rescue missions over Iraq at 150 miles per hour and recovery missions into ravaged New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, but nothing ties his stomach in knots like watching his son, Matt Manning, pitch in relief for UCF.

``Oh, watching Matt pitch is definitely tougher for me,'' Col. Manning said. ``Matt doesn't seem to get too excited about anything, but I do. I've watched him quite a few times this season and when I'm out of town I've seen him on the computer. He's a relief pitcher, so you never really know when he's going to get into the game. But I'm so proud of him.''

The Mannings will be together again (well, kind of) Tuesday when UCF hosts Jacksonville University at 6:30 p.m. As part of Community Heroes Night, Col. Manning will conduct a flyover with an HH-60G Blackhawk helicopter before first pitch.

``It's going to be really cool. Not many people can say they've had something like this happen in their career,'' said Matt, a senior righthander. ``It probably will give me goose bumps. I've seen people do (flyovers) before, but I didn't know the guys doing it. Knowing that it will be my dad up there will be really cool.''

Cool would be a good way to describe Matt, who came back from the dreaded Tommy John ligament replacement surgery to post a solid senior season. He's 1-0 with four saves in 18 appearances and he has averaged nearly a strikeout an inning over 21.2 innings pitched.

Manning's path to the mound has certainly been an unlikely one. The Melbourne native started off his baseball career at Mercer University as a shortstop, transferred back home to Brevard Community College and played the outfield. Manning assumed that his playing days were over and planned to enroll at the University of Florida and study accounting. But he was eventually asked to walk-on at UCF following summer baseball and having his fastball clocked in the low 90s.

``I'm pretty happy with how I have done this season after not pitching at all last season,'' Matt Manning said. ``I had to rehab for a year and I couldn't throw a ball for five months. It was tough and there were a lot of ups and downs.''

Much of Matt's demeanor likely comes from Philip, a reservist colonel stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Melbourne. Philip has been a full-time pilot for American Airlines since 1991, but he was deployed to Iraq in 2003 during wartime and called on to assist the relief efforts after Katrina flooded New Orleans.

Manning's command was called on to rescue a group of Marines in Baghdad after the soldiers' position had been compromised. With heavy fighting all around him, Manning's Blackhawk flew under the cover of two A-10 bombers.

Said Manning: ``As it turns out it was pretty uneventful, but at the time my heart was beating pretty good.''

Manning was shocked by the devastation that he saw in New Orleans when he helped more than 1,000 civilians escape the hurricane-ravaged city.

``It was mind-blowing that that much of the city was under water,'' he said. ``By the end of the second week, most of the easy pickups had already finished, but we'd hear from people who were still trapped. We'd look for them on Google Maps, but it's hard to find addresses when the city is underwater. But we'd cut the tops out of the houses and save them.''

Col. Manning said that it would be only fitting that Matt get the save on Tuesday what with him flying over before the game. The ``Jolly 21'' mission will call for the HH-60 G Blackhawk helicopter to blow past Jay Bergman Field at approximately 130 miles per hour. And Col. Manning said he just hopes he can get a glimpse of his son.

``He's told me to separate myself out so that he could see me,'' Matt said. ``It's going to be pretty cool.''


John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.