By Kyle West
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
It's Wednesday, April 4, at 2 p.m. Practice is starting, and Kansas baseball's leading hitter is nowhere to be seen at Hoglund Ballpark. Nobody thinks twice about it. Chris Manship never makes practice after a Tuesday game. The team didn't return to Lawrence until 1 a.m. that morning after a contest in Omaha, Neb. Manship went 0-for-3 and was pinch-hit for in the ninth inning, yet none of these reasons explain Manship's absence.
Manship, a senior captain, misses every Wednesday practice because he epitomizes what it means to be a student-athlete; Manship has a mandatory lab each Wednesday as part of a 15-hour course load he is taking this spring in addition to playing baseball to earn a degree in civil engineering.
"The lab Wednesday afternoon is kind of a killer," said Manship, a senior designated hitter from Cave Creek, Ariz. "I have to miss practice because it is during class. If the lab gets out early, I hurry over here to get to practice. I've always had a conflict here or there. Coach (Ritch) Price has been really helpful in terms of working with me to arrange things. Communicating with my teachers helps, too, in case I'm going to miss a lab because we have a game. I can schedule a time when I can make another lab session."
Manship began his academic career at Kansas studying architectural engineering, a five-year program at the university. He switched to civil engineering his junior year because many of the architectural classes were only offered at night and did not work with his athletic schedule. Now, Manship is enrolled in 15 hours this semester, which includes labs every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, and will need 18 hours in the fall to complete the 135 credit hours necessary for the major.
"I've taken 18 in the fall quite a bit," said Manship, who made the Big 12 Commissioner's Honor Roll in fall 2008 and fall 2010. "I usually try to take around 15 in the spring. It's manageable that way. Actually, it was worse when I was a freshman. Part of the architectural engineering program included architecture studio classes. Those are very time-consuming classes, so I did those my whole freshman year. Trying to travel with baseball and do that at the same time was just impossible. That's why I pushed all those classes off and ended up having to switch majors. It just really wasn't possible to do both at the same time."
Manship, who has never failed or dropped a class, says he is really enjoying his civil engineering courses in spite of the time crunch and is even considering a graduate degree in the field. Entering the 2012 season, Manship was named one of the three captains for the Jayhawks - just one example of how he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his ability to balance the long hours of being an engineering major and a Division I baseball player.
"It's been difficult," said Kansas head coach Ritch Price of Manship's dual responsibilities. "I think the time demands he has are something that very few student-athletes actually endure. He tells me that he studies until one o'clock or two o'clock in the morning as a regular routine. He's a very disciplined young man. He's not a party guy. He doesn't go out. He's completely focused on trying to do the best job he possibly can academically with that difficult engineering major. The fact that he's continued to develop as a baseball player and made progress speaks volumes to how good of a person he is, how disciplined he is and how good his work ethic is."
In 2010, Manship earned the team's Most Improved Player Award after batting .336 with six doubles and 17 RBIs as a sophomore. Manship slumped slightly in his junior campaign with a .250 batting average, five doubles and two home runs in 37 games, but he has bounced back in his final collegiate season. Through 36 games, Manship has eight extra-base hits, including three triples, and leads the team with a .308 batting average and a .474 slugging percentage for those who have appeared in at least five games.
"I think this past summer I definitely made a huge leap," said Manship, who played for the Duluth Huskies and made the prestigious Northwoods League Postseason All-Star Team after hitting .291 with a league-leading 23 doubles in 65 games. "It's been tough for me to develop as much as I'd like to because I haven't been able to devote as much time with classes. That's what was nice about this summer - it was all baseball. That was the first time in any season I played more than 30 games. I really improved a lot. It's a big difference playing every day. Plus, the only thing I had to worry about was baseball. That is definitely something I would like to continue, but we'll see what happens."
Coach Price has been pleased with Manship's development over his four years in the Crimson and Blue.
"He's matured as a hitter," explained Price. "When he came to our place, he had a power-hitting, pull-oriented approach at the plate. He's done a good job of making adjustments since he arrived. He's doing a better job of staying back and using the whole yard. He's a much more complete hitter. He came into our place as a young man that knew it was going to be a developmental process for him from the day that he got here. He's grinded, and he's worked hard. He's having his best year as a senior, which is really nice to see him being rewarded."
Price also knows that the success on the baseball field is only a small representation of what Manship has accomplished in his time at KU and that his achievements will continue long after his playing days in Lawrence.
"He's a great young man," concluded Price. "I recognize how hard it's been for him to balance school with playing in one of the best conferences in America, which can be an unbelievable challenge in itself. To know he's going to graduate with his engineering degree, there is no doubt he is going to leave our place and be very successful in life."