It’s said all stories start in the middle of things.
Dan Mangum was almost halfway through his tale as a high school baseball coach when he came to Colonel Richardson High in 2005, after nearly a decade coaching on his native western shore.
Chad Willoughby’s catch in right field for the final out of the Class 1A state championship May 25 in Aberdeen, sealed a 6-0 Colonel victory and ended Mangum’s 11-year tenure as Colonel’s skipper, as well as providing a fitting bookend.
Twelve years earlier, Mangum was a first-year assistant to then-head coach Scott Milligan and watched as Eric Karge caught another fly in right field to cap Colonel’s 9-7 victory over Northern Garrett in the 1A state final, giving Colonel its first state championship in program history.
There are seven innings in high school baseball, compared to the six in Little League, or the nine played in college and pro ranks. This season, during a span of 156 innings (counting extra-inning games and games ended by the 10-run rout rule), Colonel had to finish on top at 24 specific points.
Being up in the sixth, but not the seventh, at any point after Mother’s Day, would’ve unraveled the entire season’s tapestry. Mangum had experienced it twice before.
One such flawless run got ruined in 2015, when, in the third inning at the state semifinals, “the strike zone disappeared,” as Mangum put it, “and we gave up a bunch of runs to McDonough.
“All it takes is one bad inning,” he added. “One bad at-bat, even. We were unbeaten. We were 22-0. And we lost (6-5) in extra innings on an unearned run in the eighth. And that was it.”
A perfect regular season in 2016 was followed by playoff misfortune. The Colonels lost the Bayside Conference championship to Parkside, 9-7, and then got bounced in eight innings in their first postseason game by Cambridge-South Dorchester, 4-3.
In less than a week, Colonel had gone from 18-0 to 18-2, eliminated by a team with a losing record.
Winning can be difficult enough. But to finish every single game on top is something no one in the Bayside Conference had done in eight years. The last time it happened in the North Division was 1987, when Easton did it en route to a Class C (now 1A) title.
In April, Colonel had slipped by Easton, 6-5. “And we trailed them in the seventh inning,” Mangum recalled. “It’s just amazing that, somehow, the kids managed to pull that one out, too.
“There comes a time that coaching can only get you so far,” Mangum adds, “that being the head coach can only do so much. That’s where the kids come in. That’s where the assistants I’ve had have been so, so valuable, where the kids’ work has meant so much.”
Assistant Ray Bennett, who put all three of his sons through Colonel’s system and into Division-I programs, has been a member of the supporting cast since the Milligan regime. Bennett, possessed an uncanny memory and encyclopedic knowledge of the game and its minutia, hasn’t been there as often the last couple of years. But when he was, everyone knew it.
In the 1A East Regional championship May 17, an unsuccessful Mardela bunt attempt meant that a runner, at second rather than third, couldn’t score on a fielder’s-choice grounder later in the inning. Bennett, playing the role of bench coach, stalked the far end of the dugout, almost as angry as if one of his own players had made the mistake.
“You get your bunts down! Down! You miss them, and it costs you, every single time!” Bennett railed. “That’s the baseball gods right there, and you gotta pay ‘em!”
The missed opportunity kept things tied, 2-2, entering the bottom of the seventh. Colonel scraped out a 3-2 win moments later, on Nathan Roth’s single through a drawn-in infield. The gods of the diamond had levied their punishment once more. Colonel’s enemies paid that penance, all told, a third of the time they played.
“We won eight games by one run. Eight. In the Easton game, we were down with one out in the bottom of the seventh and had to come back and win,” Mangum said. “We beat Mardela by one run three times somehow. How do you do that? Mardela was good. Really good.”
Colonel trailed Boonsboro 7-4 in the bottom of the fifth this year in the state semis at McCurdy Field in Frederick, the same venue where 2015’s perfect run ended.
This year, though, Colonel persevered. Four tallies in the fifth, Roth’s single capping the rally, made it 8-7. Ty Scott, who finished 8-0 with an impossible-sounding earned-run average of 0.19, closed it out, getting the win in relief as Colonel advanced to the finals. Its opponent: McDonough, setting up a rematch fiction writers would consider hackneyed and unoriginal for Mangum’s final game.
The 2019 team was different though. Starter Jamison Covey and reliever Scott, dodged a couple of close scrapes in the final, before Colonel exploded for six runs in the top of the ninth for the 6-0 victory, giving their head coach the happy ending no one minds reading.
Two-thirds of the starting lineup made the All-Mid-Shore first team for their efforts during the season, and Mangum was named Coach of the Year. Colonel finished the season ranked No. 1 in the state by Prep Baseball Report, and No. 2 by Maxpreps, behind St. John’s, which is located in the District of Columbia.
Mangum truly went out on top. But to his coaches, it’s never been about him.
“He’s always had the kids’ best interests at heart. Other people are gonna bash and say this, that, and the other, but he did a fantastic job,” Bennett said. “Dan did a damn good job with it. I know how special this was to him, especially for him and Remy, being his only son. That was a special moment for him to have with his son. I got that in 2007, so I know how it feels.”
The 2019 Colonels, in part, had been under development since that year, when a young Tyler Stanley, and Dan’s son, Remington, among others, took to the diamond for the first time. Tyler’s father, Ty, a 1980 Colonel alum, has been with Mangum “since our boys were five, so 12 years.”
“It was a really good experience for me, because during Little League, he had high school baseball,” Ty Stanley said. “And one of the things that I really respected about Dan was that he let me run the Little League teams. He didn’t try to pull rank.
“He never questioned anything I said or did, and he knew more than I knew,” Ty Stanley added with a laugh. “He’d make suggestions as far as lineups, but I never had a problem with him telling me ‘you’re doing this wrong,’ or ‘you’re doing that wrong,’ nothing like that.
“He trusted me with his own son,” Ty Stanley added, “and I trusted mine with his. And he more than lived up to that trust. ... We talk all the time like brothers. Do we agree on everything? No. Nobody does. But he’s one of the closest friends I’ve ever had.”
Last Memorial Day weekend, those friends watched their sons celebrate a state championship together, finishing a season on top for the first, and only, time in Dan’s tenure as head coach.
“I guess the highest point would be that state championship,” Ty Stanley said, “but going through the states with Little League, taking those kids to second in the state, and then another time we finished fourth in the state, that was great, too.
“Keeping the boys together all that time, and having them stay with us all through that program, it was huge,” Ty Stanley added, “not to mention with football. ... We had made playoffs once in the school’s history and just made it twice in a row — and we had the opportunity to make it four times in a row, [but] just missed.
“To be a part of both of those processes at Colonel Richardson High School, it’s just been a great time,” Ty Stanley said. “Dan is an old-style coach. He’s bare-bones and to the point. He doesn’t cut any corners on what he says and the kids that have stuck by us have had good results.”
Dan Mangum, Colonel pitching coach Neil Lambert said, is “truly dedicated to the well-being of young men, much more than probably he puts out there, or that people believe.
“It’s not just going out there to try to get a win,” Lambert said. “It’s about knowing the kids, and being there for them. He can tell you about almost any kid who’s been in this program: what they’ve been doing, if they’ve been in trouble, how he wishes there’s something he could do about it if they are.
“He doesn’t make a website, he doesn’t wave the flag about it,” Lambert added. “I think there’s a certain level of camaraderie that we’ve experienced over the years. A camaraderie not a lot of teams have.
“He’s a grinder. ... I love grinders, they stay with it, they’re not deterred. They stay to the task, and with Dan Mangum, when it comes to baseball, he always stays to the task,” Lambert continued. “And the tradition we’ve got has been a long time coming. I can’t pick a spot that I’d say is our zenith, but you know, we had some years where we were really young, and still managed to pull a winning season out of it.”
The 2011 and 2012 seasons, Lambert said, “were where we were kinda young, and we weren’t sure of our pitching totally. But we had guys like Lee Butler and Todd Wilson, who went out there, and developed as the season went on, and by the end of the year, we were able to say the kids had come on, we had had a winning season, and the kids had really grown and developed, not just as ball players.
“Dan was always one to do what he said,” Lambert added. “With him it’s never been an ‘are you gonna do that?’ thing. If he said he was gonna do it, you know he’s committed to it, and he stayed with whatever it was, and it’s reflected in how the kids developed, and went from being good ball players to great ball players, and from good kids, to great young men. ... Dan’s job has been to push young men, to see what their limits are, and to see what they could accomplish. And they’ve accomplished a lot.”
Mangum’s body of work at Colonel is impressive: a record of 178-50, including one state championship, two regional titles (2015, 2019), three Bayside titles (2009, 2015, 2019), six North Bayside crowns (2009, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019). Colonel never had a losing season while he was head coach.
But after most games — more than 78 percent of them wins — his first comment to reporters’ often was: “who do you want to talk to?” — meaning a player, rather than himself.
But how much of it was actually the skipper, and not the pinch-hitter who bounced one off the short porch in left, or the reliever who got the big K with two men on base?
“I’d say a lot of it was Dan,” Ty Stanley said. “It boils down to the discipline. We can suggest anything we want to suggest. In the end he’s got to make the decision. The decisions he made on the field were his decisions.
“Basically, I say that because he didn’t have to take our advice into consideration,” Ty Stanley went on to say. “Sometimes he did, and sometimes he didn’t. But this team, it was all Dan’s decisions.”
Coaching third, Ryan Blanchfield, the only person in school history to win a state baseball title as a player and a coach, has been the unofficial heir to the kingdom for three years. Starting with junior varsity, he’s coached for five seasons, and hopes to take the clipboard next March. He was a sophomore in 2007.
Seeing the game from both perspectives has given Blanchfield a deeper appreciation for the efforts of a team’s leader.
“Someone asked me about (it) the other day, it was funny,” Blanchfield said, “them asking whether winning as a player was better, or different, or if coaching was better.
“My immediate response was, ‘it was better as a coach,’” Blanchfield said. “I think as a player I might have took it for granted. Not that we knew we had it. That Northern Garrett game was really tough. But on the other hand, we expected to be there every year, and it’s not that easy, really, when you see what a coach has to do to get you there, the decisions needed.
“And to go 24-0, man, that’s special. I was so happy for the kids, is what it came down to,” Blanchfield added. “I was a lot more nervous this year. I don’t know why, but I couldn’t relax until I saw Willoughby squeeze the ball.
“When I saw the ball hit I wrote ‘F-9,’ because we keep charts and keep track of all this stuff, obviously, but as a player you’re more in the moment,” Blanchfield said. “And having Dan there, being able to learn from him and the other coaches, it’s been really great. ... I’ve learned a lot.”
Uncompromising, and wearing his emotions on his sleeve — “The good thing about Dan is you always know where he stands; he sets expectations for the kids and the kids have to live up to it,” Colonel athletic director Brett Ireland said.
Now, Mangum sets his sights on at least one more football season.
“I don’t know how long I’ll do this, too,” he said. “I’m obviously here for one more year, to be with Neil (Lambert). Mason (Lambert’s son) is a senior, and I owe that to Neil. And I want to do it.
“I could retire from teaching in a couple more years if I wanted to,” Dan Mangum adds, “but again, I’m not sure what’ll be going on in a year or two more. ... For now, we’re just taking it as it comes.”
Though he’s done with baseball, and football won’t be his much longer, his impact has and will be felt by many, Bennett commented.
“He’s gonna miss it, but he did it all the right way,” Bennett said. “You gotta like knowing that you know where you stand with him. He’s not gonna sugar-coat it. ... A lot of moms don’t like that, but he got the results, and he did it with his own players, and he didn’t take any crap from anybody.
“We’ve won a lot of baseball games, and there’s been a lot of fun starting March 1 of every year. But I think the program is in good hands with Ryan,” Bennett added. “Dan’s an incredible coach, a great guy, a good friend. My middle son, Hunter, invited Dan to his wedding, because he thought that much of him. He’ll always be a special part of our family and lives. ... It makes you proud to be in that community.”
Said Lambert: “I think if you look at the record, and you look at what we’ve been able to do over the years it is a pretty big pair of shoes to fill. But if you look, you’ll also see it has the foundations to move forward and do well. There’s no reason the tradition shouldn’t continue with Ryan.”
And though he’s leaving, the Colonel leader continues to think about the future, even if it’s without his No. 15 jersey in use any longer, including the junior varsity.
“Brett (Evans) did an amazing job at the JV level, finishing the season 16-2, with the only losses coming to Easton and Stephen Decatur. He and Ryan will be a great team, and the future looks bright for Colonel baseball.”
Dan Mangum lives in Federalsburg with his wife of 23 years, Jennifer, and their children, Remington, 18, Reagan, 16, and Reese, 12.