He loves baseball. He loves winning. Probably in that order.
The 2013 Little League Regional Tournament in San Bernardino, California played host to three walk-offs – he hit none of them. In fact, he was at the losing end of each.
When Eastlake (WA) fled their dugout to celebrate the thrilling 5-4 victory, Kyle Manzardo and his heartbroken Coeur d’Alene teammates trotted back into theirs. The loss marked elimination just one game short of the Little League World Series.
Fast forward five years later, Kyle found time to coach and volunteer for the same Little League program to which he once belonged between friends, work, practice, games, and general preparation before college.
“The kids look up to Kyle,” Coeur d’Alene Little League President Jeff Smith said. “It means a lot more coming from a guy who was in their shoes and not just another 50-year-old coach.”
Kyle, now a freshman at Washington State University, graduated from Lake City High School a State Champion, All-USA Idaho First Team, and the Inland Empire League MVP after hitting an absurd .594 average his senior campaign. He plays first base with the Cougars though he’s seen more time at designated hitter.
His success is no coincidence. A combination of hard work and community support – especially in the baseball circles of North Idaho – played an integral role.
“I spent some of my best days on the baseball field when I was just 12 or 13 years old,” Kyle said. “I wanted to try and help other kids find their love for the game playing Little League in the summer.”
The 2018 Coeur d’Alene 12U program didn’t just fall in love with the game, they made it to San Bernardino and won the whole tournament for a bid to Williamsport, Pennsylvania – home of the Little League World Series.
“I’m sure it was awesome and it makes me happy they got to experience that. Something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives,” Kyle said.
It was just the second time in history, Boise the first in 1999, that a team from Idaho qualified for the LLWS.
“Kyle helped a lot with their attitudes and how to prepare for a bigger stage,” Smith said.
For the love of the game
Kyle grew up in the dugouts of North Idaho College when his father, Paul Manzardo, served as the program’s head man. Baseball was cut at NIC in 2002 partly due to Title IX complications but Kyle’s love for the game only blossomed from there.
Even on his own time it seemed baseball never left his mind. Early as five-years-old, Kyle would wait for his dad to get off work so the two could hit in the backyard. And once the baseball junkie grew big enough to hit it over the neighborhood fence, the softball cages at North Idaho College hosted future outings.
“We call it The Armory,” Kyle said of the NIC cages.
One could find the ambitious youngster there up to six times a week 12 months a year. And even though he spend three seasons on Lake City’s varsity basketball squad, it was clear Kyle’s heart belonged to the baseball diamond.
“He really enjoyed playing at an early age and my wife and I always tried to make it extremely fun,” Paul said. “It was so easy because he always wanted to do it.”
One could say Kyle got the bug early. It seemed any game he and his childhood friends played would feature a bat and ball.
“Wiffle ball game after wiffle ball game,” Paul said. “I think the non-structured play he did as a kid helped tremendously.”
The company you keep
That non-structured play translated to a lot of success in organized baseball. But perhaps that is equally reflective of his teammates and the good friendships made.
Two notable buddies from Kyle’s Little League days can be found in fellow Washington State teammate Kodie Kolden and Gonzaga University basketball commit Anton Watson (Gonzaga Prep). Watson was the Little League team’s “Ace” according to Paul.
“We were all really close friends,” Kyle said. “We played together since like 9 years old, maybe even some of us before that.”
As the saying goes, tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are. If you played Little League baseball under Paul Manzardo, Division-I athlete would be the proper response.
However, some would argue that’s just a byproduct of the culture and community found in Coeur d’Alene. According to Smith, a local fundraiser brought in $25,000 for Little League travel expenses this past summer. The excess funds are going to a new scoreboard for the community field.
“Coeur d’Alene has given me a lot of opportunities,” Kyle said. “It seems like everybody enjoys helping each other out there.”
Growing into his own
The six-foot-one freshman certainly made the most of the opportunities given. He spent four seasons on Lake City’s varsity roster after being called up midway through his freshman season to DH.
By his sophomore year, Kyle was a Swiss Army knife of sorts for the Timberwolves. He spent time at virtually every infield position, including pitcher, and even got innings in the outfield receiving First-Team All Inland Empire League honors. It was also the year Lake City won the Idaho 5A State Championship.
“We went in big underdogs,” Kyle said. “We upset [Timberline] who was picked to win it all game one. After that we were really hot and cruised through the rest of it.”
Team and individual accolades of this caliber aren’t in the cards for many, but something about Kyle was different. His love for the game, desire to play and compete, his potential. And by the time Kyle was 10 years old, that potential began to surface.
“I realized things were starting to click was when he was 10 years old and we played for the Little League State Championship,” Paul said. “He made some stellar plays at short and came up time and time again offensively. From there he started getting better and better as his confidence grew.”
With that growing confidence came growing interest – specifically from college scouts. Kyle received a lot of attention from West Coast Conference programs like Gonzaga, but one thing ultimately tipped the recruiting scales crimson.
“I played really good in a summer ball game that [Washington State Head Coach Marty Lees] was at. I’m not even sure he was there to look at me,” Kyle said.
After a 5-5 outing at the plate with two singles, a pair of doubles, and a homerun, the Idaho native had Lees attention and eventually a scholarship offer.
Staying in the Northwest with an opportunity to get playing time as a freshman, Washington State was just what Kyle wanted. Not to mention, a chance to compete with premier talent had an impact with the Pac-12 – rivaled only by the SEC – being the top college baseball conference in the nation.
And with Kyle hitting a .245 average on 98 plate appearance for 11 runs, 24 hits, and 17 runs batted in, he certainly appears to belong.
“I think Kyle Manzardo will be one of the best hitters to ever come through Washington State,” Lees said.
(Photos: Jack Ellis – Cougar Sports Network)