The kid was waiting patiently for his chance. And when he finally got it, he made an impression that has stayed with Mike Arendt to this day.
It was May 18, 2017, and the Union Grove High School baseball team was hosting Wilmot in a Southern Lakes Conference game. Union Grove was in the midst of a rebuilding season and fell behind 5-1 by the third inning.
And then the kid started making his case. Freshman shortstop TJ Manteufel, seeing his first meaningful varsity time of the season, singled, scored a run and robbed two Wilmot hitters of hits with eye-popping defensive plays.
The Broncos tied the score 5-5 in the bottom of the third inning. And while they went on to lose 10-5, the quiet, respectful Manteufel said by his performance that there was a new sheriff in town.
“The guy was fearless,” said Arendt, who stepped down after that season to become athletic director at St. Catherine’s. “He made an unbelievable play behind second base and I remember (assistant) Josh Pye turning to me and saying, ‘Where did this kid come from?’ I said, ‘He’s a freshman,’ and I think his jaw just about hit the floor.
“That’s just when we knew we made right decision to bring him up, that he was definitely ready. He just got up there with no fear and the guy who was throwing at that time (for Wilmot) was Gunner Peterson, who is down at Illinois State right now.”
Two years later, Manteufel is far removed from being an upstart. As a junior, he has already made a verbal commitment to Bradley University and is a fixture at shortstop for one of the hottest teams in southeastern Wisconsin.
Manteufel is hitting .321 with five doubles, a triple, five home runs and 22 RBIs. He’s scored 25 runs and has stolen 12 bases in 13 attempts. He has a .418 on-base average with the help of nine walks. And he’s committed just three errors in 49 chances.
Combined with such other established players as Luke Hansel, Owen Erickson, Jake Zimmerman, Cody Heron and Jack Clark, Manteufel has led the Broncos to a 16-3 record. They are second to Burlington in the SLC with a 10-2 record and have won six straight games.
For Manteufel, it all started with the man for whom he is named — his father, Todd Manteufel.
“When I was younger, almost every night of the week, my dad would walk me up to the baseball fields behind my house and he would throw me batting practice,” Manteufel said. “I would work with my dad for hours a week, just him and I working on the little things that would make me a better player.
“He never forced the work on me either. To me, it was always just playing baseball and getting better at the game I love. Even today, my dad is helping me.”
After his six-game introduction as a freshman, Manteufel broke through as a sophomore. He earned first-team All-Racine County honors after hitting .380 with 18 RBIs and scored 27 runs while also anchoring the Broncos’ infield at shortstop.
Manteufel focused on his defense heading into this and his impact there has been evident in the eyes of Burlington coach Scott Staude.
“He’s very athletic, he moves very well laterally at the shortstop position and can really cover a lot of ground,” Staude said. “He’s an elite shortstop in our area getting to the ball in the hole and being able to make the throw over. I’ve been impressed with that and, obviously he has real good power numbers. I’m impressed by how he can drive to all fields, and he’s not a very large kid.”
Manteufel also has the ability to adjust, which Staude noticed during a doubleheader against Burlington May 3. After being held hitless in the first game, which Union Grove lost 5-4, Manteufel went 2 for 2 with a double and home run in the Broncos’ 4-1 victory in the second game.
“We tried to challenge him and we had great results against him in the first game,” Staude said. “He might have struck out three times. We tried to pitch him inside and then work some offspeed stuff away and he made a real nice adjustment the second game.”
This comes from a year-round dedication to the game, which heightens during the summer when he plays for the Racine Hitters, a traveling team. Manteufel received national exposure with the Hitters, ultimately leading to his scholarship with Bradley, which is 29-14 this season.
“By playing in front of so many college coaches, I was able to get my name out there and begin talking with a lot of coaches about potentially playing for them,” he said. “After the 2018 summer, I was in talks with many other schools, mostly programs in the Missouri Valley Conference, Big 10 and MAC (Mid-American Conference).”
Manteufel eventually chose Bradley in Peoria, Ill. Among the factors that entered into his decision was the school’s academic reputation.
He has a 4.1 grade-point average and ranks 21st out of 242 students in his junior class. He has prioritized math and science and is considering a career in medicine.
But there’s a lot of baseball in his future before that.
“My dream is to be playing professional baseball,” he said. “Ever since I was a kid, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I remember seeing the professionals, guys like Derek Jeter and Dustin Pedroia, and just wanting to be like them when I grow up.
“However, besides the baseball perspective, I really want to go into the medical field. I could really see myself as an orthopedic surgeon or some other type of surgeon.”
As for Union Grove coach Nate Meyer, he’s just happy he has Manteufel for one more full season.
“He’s someone you want on your team every year,” Meyer said. “He’ll do anything to help your team win.”