12-year-old Manning Bradley has overcome physical limitations to become an up-and-coming baseball star
Manning Bradley wasn’t alive for Jim Abbott’s 1993 no-hitter – a day that lives in baseball infamy. That, however, doesn’t stop the 12-year-old baseball star from garnering comparisons to the former Major Leaguer.
Abbott, a 10-year major league veteran, and Bradley share one distinct characteristic – they throw and catch with the same hand. For Abbott, the circumstance was dictated by a missing right hand. For Bradley, cerebral palsy, a disease impacting an individual’s ability to maintain posture and balance, affects the motor skills on the left side of his body.
Still, Bradley’s physical limitation hasn’t put any ceiling on the young player’s athletic potential. Bradley’s hard work and love for the game have allowed him to flourish into one of Henderson Baseball Associations premier talents.
“He’s got a really strong arm and he hits the ball well,” Bart Bradley, Manning’s father and coach said. “[Manning’s] batting stance and style are quite a bit different than the rest of the kids, but he has to do what he can do. He doesn’t show frustration at all. He’s adapted so well and has figured out how things work for him.”
Born 130 miles from Dallas in Henderson, Texas, Manning Bradley’s physical disabilities were evident to Bart Bradley early on. Manning was born prematurely, weighing just three pounds and fifteen ounces at birth.
Following birth, Manning Bradley spent roughly 30 days in the hospital in Dallas before making the journey home.
“Once [Manning] got out of the hospital, around nine months to a year things weren’t progressing as quickly as they should have,” Bradley said. “We noticed he would reach for things on his left side with his right hand.”
A second opinion from a pediatrician confirmed that Manning had cerebral palsy and would need to spend time in Dallas every three months until he was nine years old for development.
Eventually, that time would include three procedures on Manning’s left Achilles tendon to provide more flexion and function to his left foot.
Despite these early challenges, Manning’s athleticism and ability to adjust to his circumstances were clear from a young age.
Bart Bradley, a former collegiate pitcher at Sam Houston State saw his love of the sports, specifically baseball begin to rub off on his son.
“Being the sports enthusiast I am, [Manning] was always wanting to go into the yard and play catch,” Bradley said. “When he got to the age he was able to throw the ball a bit, we put the glove on his left hand because he throws right-handed. It turned out that he couldn’t squeeze the glove enough with that left hand to catch, so he was actually catching the ball with his bare hand and trapping it with his glove.”
In between Manning Bradley’s first experience in tee ball, Bart Bradley decided to purchase a right-handed glove. Like Abbot, Manning then began practicing throwing with his right hand and after releasing the ball, subsequently putting his glove on that same hand to prepare to field the ball.
The adjusted motion took time to perfect, but the former high school baseball coach in Bart Bradley helped pushed his son to improve.
“He would throw the ball to me and I would try to gauge enough time to throw the ball back when he switched his glove, but I would push it to help him work on doing it quicker,” Bradley said. “Being that I’m on the board of the Henderson Boys Baseball Association, we also have access to the batting cages which has helped Manning’s development.”
The early dedication and bond between Manning and Bart Bradley eventually paid major dividends. The procedure on Manning’s Achilles unlocked increased speed and mobility, and Manning continued to gain confidence on the baseball diamond.
By the time Manning was nine, he was selected for Henderson’s All-Star team. Another major turning point for the 12-year-old occurred during a single game and provided Manning the confidence that he had what it takes to be a successful athlete.
“I struck out the best hitter on the opposing team,” Bradley said. “Then, I hit a triple off of him when I was batting. Those moments provided a lot of confidence for me.”
Initially, Bart Bradley attempted to put Manning at positions on the field that would allow him ample time to switch his glove and ready for fielding.
It quickly became clear though, that his son could play any of the nine positions.
“At first I resisted him playing positions like third base, because of the time it might take to the field and throw the ball to first Bradley said. “I put him there in Fall league last year, and he made some awesome plays. My wife had to say I told you so because she told me he could play any position.”
Manning just completed his final regular season in Henderson’s Dixie League (ages 9-12). His deliberate practice has resulted in him being a known commodity around Henderson and other local communities. It has also made him one of the most feared pitchers and hitters in the area.
The right-handed hurler and first basemen, among other positions, completed his final season with a .632 batting average and a 5-1 record on the mound which coincided with 79 strikeouts in just over 33 innings pitched.
Throughout the season, Manning’s prowess made opponents hope he exceeded the maximum amount of pitches permitted per week by league rules. They hoped he wasn’t on the pitching rubber when they stepped up to the plate.
“Everyone says man I hope Manning runs out of pitches, I hope he pitches on Tuesday, so we don’t have to face him on Friday” Ben Gamble, an opposing coach in Henderson and Manning’s All-Star coach said.
Gamble didn’t only mention Manning’s talent, but also his passion for the game and extreme coachability.
“When I first saw Manning play five years ago, the first thing I noticed was his compassion for the game,” Gamble said. “He was our number one pitcher and cleanup hitter this season. He’s one kid that you didn’t have to get motivated, he’s always into it and he loves the game.”
Looking forward, Manning Bradley hopes to continue playing baseball as long as he can and has his eye on other sports as well.
Bradley has recently begun a weight training program with the Henderson Youth Football program in preparation for the upcoming fall season – one that would be his first.
“I want to play quarterback,” Bradley said.
Manning Bradley’s perseverance and choice to focus on his talent and what he’s able to do is an inspiration to all those around him. His talents on the baseball diamond have already attracted the attention of local high school coaches, but his family remains his biggest fans.
“I’m extremely proud of him,” Bart Bradley said. “I’ve got older children that have played sports, including one son that played college football. He is in awe of Manning.”
“Manning may be a different kid than any of the rest of them physically, but he has some special things that he does. We’re all so proud of him.”
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