Manoah gives back with kids camp in hometown

January 28th, 2023

MIAMI -- The 6-foot-6  towered above a crowd of 100-plus kids ages 4-15.

“Did you have fun today?” Manoah asked.

“Yeah!” A chorus of children yelled back.

The group, most of whom were between 6 and 13 years old, was preparing to run a relay race as the final activity of the second-annual Alek Manoah Camp at South Dade Senior High School in Homestead, Fla., on Saturday.

Manoah attended South Dade before he was drafted 11th overall by the Blue Jays out of West Virginia University in the 2019 MLB Draft. He was joined Saturday by his brother Erik -- who plays pro ball in the Atlantic League -- Major Leaguers J.J. Matijevic (Astros), Santiago Espinal (Blue Jays) and Touki Toussaint (Guardians), plus Minor Leaguer Adam Kloffenstein (Double-A New Hampshire) and local coaches -- including Jonathan Fernandez, son of Tony Fernandez.

Manoah started the camp last year to help provide South Florida baseball players with access to the best training and advice: things the Toronto right-hander wished were available to him as a young player. What began with about 50 kids last year turned into a crowd of over 100 athletes, including two young girls.

“Growing up in the circumstances that I grew up in, in Homestead and all that stuff, it's very easy to get caught in the negative,” Manoah said. “Being able to have a platform, being able to live out my dream -- [it] started out as just a dream, just like all these kids. They're just dreaming to be in the big leagues.”

Manoah’s impact in his hometown remains palpable. A banner dedicated to Manoah from the 2021 graduating class hangs on the back of the stands. Current South Dade players helped run the camp, and each participant got to take a picture with Manoah.

“I just want to be somebody who, you know, played at the same parks that they play at, sat at the same classrooms, did all that stuff," Manoah said. "I want to be somebody who's there for them so that they can say, ‘Hey, you know what? Manoah did exactly what we're doing right now. We can make it the same way he made it.’”

The camp began with dynamic stretches before players split into groups and rotated between seven stations, working on everything from pitching and hitting to catching pop flies and turning double plays. After the relay race, camp closed out with a Q&A.

All the while, Manoah’s mother, Susana, bounced between stations taking pictures and videos of the kids involved. For her, the camp is what keeps her going through the offseason.

“She's always been the team mom,” Manoah said. “So she's like, ‘Hey, I want to be the camp mom … whatever you need me to do now.’ It brings her a lot of joy. And it brings her back some really good memories from when we were young.”

“It’s what keeps me alive,” Susana said, “being involved. … Baseball is important to me, but their integrity as men is more important. So the fact that he does this for the kids and there's no selfish intentions or anything about it, because there's no money-making in this. This all strictly goes into the gift packs for them. … this way, people can afford it.”

Susana is more proud of the man her son has become than his baseball success, though there’s plenty of that to be proud of, too. In just his second Major League season, Manoah made the American League All-Star team and gave fans quite a show by striking out three, all while mic’d up. Manoah has been shoving since his debut on May 27, 2021, vs. the Yankees.

Manoah has been dominant and as consistent as a veteran starter. Of his 31 starts in 2022, Manoah had just six starts of fewer than six innings and no starts shorter than five innings. The third-place AL Cy Young Award finisher ended the regular season with 180 strikeouts and a 2.24 ERA (in 196 2/3 innings), fourth best in the Majors.

With the camp done -- and a success by all accounts -- Manoah has his sights set on Spring Training and the start of the Blue Jays' season.

“I’m super excited to go out there and build off of what we were able to kind of put together last year,” Manoah said. “Just go put it all together and go bring that championship back to Toronto.”

It’s fair to say that Homestead will be rooting for Manoah to get to that championship, too.