Former minor league catcher and
decades-long coach and East Amwell teacher Jake Manning dies
Donald “Jake” Manning, a former minor league catcher, fixture in Hunterdon County baseball and dedicated teacher and coach at East Amwell School for almost four decades, passed away this morning at his home in East Amwell.
He had taken the field with baseball greats while playing minor league ball for the Yankees, Oakland A’s and Cleveland for seven years, a job that overlapped teaching.
During his time in the minor leagues, Manning roomed with Gene Tenace, who became an A’s World Series MVP, and tried to hit Nolan Ryan’s fastball.
“I just watched three pitches, and swung at one the first time I faced him,” Manning said. “I took my strike-out like a man and went and sat down. That man can bring a fastball. He showed me the difference between the other minor league pitchers and the great ones.”
Manning graduated from High Bridge High School in 1961, an All-Area basketball and baseball player for the Hilltoppers. He continued his education at Missouri Valley College, playing collegiate basketball for two seasons and baseball for four. In 1965 he was honored as an All-American catcher and signed by the New York Yankees.
A few years ago in an interview Manning said, “I always wanted to be a pro baseball player since I was a kid in High Bridge playing the North Hunterdon Little League, and I had a shot at it. People ask me what my signing bonus was, and it is not like today with million dollar checks flashed at kids. They told me what my salary was going to be, and told me to sign on the dotted line. I signed where they told me to sign. I got no bonus.”
He said he learned a lot about baseball and a lot about how to pack a suitcase.
“My minor league days were like a travelogue,” Manning said. “I was all over the map playing in minor league cities from Florida, to New York state, Canada and points east. It was a good experience, but I decided in 1970… my life would be better suited to teaching and coaching, and making a real living. Baseball salaries were not like they are today, or I might have had second thoughts.”
He was a teammate of Jerry Kenney, who became a Yankees third baseman, and Allan Lewis, the first designated runner in the American League for the A’s.
Yankee Reggie Jackson left an impression on Manning during spring training in Ft. Lauderdale. “He was a monster, with the biggest arms I had ever seen on a man,” Manning marveled at the memory. “And, when he hit the ball in batting practice it hardly ever stayed in the park. He was amazing to watch, and every batting practice he put on a show.”
For a few years Manning's two careers, minor league ball and teaching, overlapped. Local baseball umpire and East Amwell School teacher Chris Colt said, “The school would let him leave early, in April or May,” to join his team. “It was the old days.”
East Amwell Superintendent Ed Stoloski choked up today when speaking about Manning. “He was a great teacher and a great coach. He cared so much about the school! I just had to tell the staff and everyone’s so upset.”
Manning’s license plate “tells the whole story,” Stoloski. “It said ‘Cougars,’” the school mascot. “He loved the school that much. And the kids loved him.“
Manning retired in 2006 from East Amwell after a 39-year career as a gym teacher and the school baseball field was named in his honor. “I’m glad we did that,” Stoloski said. “I just saw him two days ago at the post office. I can’t believe it…”
At East Amwell, Manning coached boys basketball since the 1960s, garnering more than 20 Hunterdon Central sending district titles. He coached Cougars baseball for 29 years, served as athletic director and organized basketball holiday tournaments.
Manning organized the Flemington Post 159 baseball team in the Pyramid American Legion League and coached it for 24 seasons, retiring from that position in 2007.
Current Post 159 Coach Steve Farsiou, served under Manning for many seasons. “He was my mentor and close friend, and I am at a loss for words,” said Farsiou. “I spoke to him two or three times a week and loved picking his brain on the game and strategy. He entrusted me with his program, and he made my transition so easy, and was always there for me and the program.”
Being chosen by Manning as his successors was “one of the biggest honors of my life,” said Farisou. “I called him GM. He was such a good person. There wasn’t a baseball coach in the state that didn’t know him. He will be sorely missed.”
Manning had also been an assistant baseball coach at Hopewell Valley High School for the past eight years. He always said that he loved to teach the game.
Manning guided the Post 159 team for 27 seasons with nary a losing season. His teams missed qualifying for the New Jersey State American Legion playoffs just three times. His 2004 team clinched the Pyramid Legion League West Division.
Three of his Legion players went on to sign professional contracts. Hunterdon Central grad Andy Paul signed as a pitcher with the Milwaukee Brewers, Tim Dougherty as a catcher in the Phillies organization and Will Fleck of Del Val a Triple A pitcher with the Atlanta Braves.