SPECIAL TO THE HERALD
IOWA CITY — University of Iowa senior second baseman Jake Mangler is a throwback, a ball player’s ball player, a dirt bag.
Dirt bag? You bet. It isn’t a derogatory term, especially if you understand baseball.
“Dirt bags are guys that are diving all over the place, that play hard,” said Mangler, a senior from Clinton. “That’s something I have had to do my whole career is to play hard and for the team.”
Mangler is also a winner.
“You look at guys like Pete Rose and Dustin Pedroia... those guys are always dirty and diving all over the field. It’s a compliment to be a dirt bag. I do what it takes to win, so if that’s who I am, that’s who I am.”
His attitude, work ethic, and leadership have been at the forefront since the day he stepped foot on the University of Iowa campus in 2010. Through hard work, he has developed into one of the Iowa’s top players and one of the best second baseman in the Big Ten Conference.
“He’s a solid all-around player,” said UI head coach Rick Heller. “He does a great job defensively, is arguably our best clutch hitter, does well on the base paths, and is a hustle and energy guy.
“All that stuff rubs off on the rest of the team. He’s a throwback. You love those guys that play the game with a lot of passion and have a deep love for playing baseball. Jake’s that guy.”
Mangler was introduced to baseball as a four-year-old, tossing the ball around the backyard with his parents, sister, and friends from the neighborhood. He tagged along to his father’s softball (both slow pitch and fast pitch) games, soaked in the team atmosphere, and learned to appreciate the game.
“From a very early age, baseball was what I loved,” said Mangler. “I loved traveling to different cities and playing with the same guys all the years I grew up.”
Mangler was a three-year letterwinner and a first-team all-conference honoree as a quarterback, a two-time all-conference selection in basketball, and a four-year letterwinner in track and field.
But it was baseball where he stood out most. Mangler hit better than .400 all four years of his high school career. He was a four-time all-conference and all-district selection and twice earned all-state honors.
“I had football offers from smaller, Division II schools,” said Mangler. “I could have played both at the University of Minnesota-Mankato and that was big for me. I got looks from Illinois State; my running back (David Johnson) went to Northern Iowa.
“But I always wanted to be a Hawkeye. I grew up a Hawkeye, and when I got the opportunity to play here, it was really a dream come true.”
Mangler focuses on the small things as a Hawkeye leader. It’s simple, he helps guys when they need to be helped and asks for help in the same way.
It’s a trait he learned from those before him like Tyson Blaser and Mike McQuillan during his freshman season.
“It’s special to be a leader of this team, but like I can say a million times, all of us are leaders,” said Mangler. “For us to be successful all of us have to be able to help each other on the field.”
Mangler has put in the time to turn himself into an All-Big Ten and all-region honoree on the field. He put up career-best numbers across the board as a junior, hitting .315 with a team-best 45 RBIs, scored 38 runs, and had 13 extra base hits. He hit .385 with runners in scoring position.
“Throughout all the sports in my life, I have learned to not make the situation more than it is,” he said. “It’s still just a game, (hitting with runners on base) is a situation in baseball. It’s about being able to slow yourself down, stay relaxed and execute when it’s your turn... do what you can for the team.”
It all comes down to team for Mangler, while playing the game the right way. It’s why Heller calls him a throwback. It’s why Mangler relishes being labeled a dirt bag.
“The guys that truly love to play the game, they cherish every second they have on the field and they realize someday it’s going to be over,” said Heller. “Jake is one of those guys that takes advantage of every second he has out there, and that rubs off on all the other guys.
“Playing the game the right way is how I made it to where I am today,” said Mangler. “And that’s where I’ll continue to make it.”
Spoken like a ball player’s ball player.