Mets’ Sean Manaea honoring late brother with uniform number: ‘David was the absolute man’

Sean Manaea cherished spending time with David, his oldest brother. Technically, David was Sean’s half-brother, but he felt more like a close uncle because of their age gap of 28 years. To Sean, “David was the absolute man.”

When Sean was growing up, they lived 30 minutes from each other in Indiana. As baseball occupied much of Sean’s time as a kid, David was the one who spearheaded different activities. David would say in an easygoing tone, “Hey, we should do this.” That would often mean something fun in Chicago like seeing the annual Chicago Auto Show or attending a Chicago Bears game at Soldier Field.

Sean’s family is full of die-hard Bears fans, but no one rooted harder than David. When Sean was about 12, David brought him to his first Bears game. Sean still remembers how frigid that day was. He remembers being in the parking lot for tailgating, being scared when his family’s grill accidentally burst into flames and then being able to laugh about it later. And he remembers wearing a Bears jersey, a gift from David.

“He was just f—ing awesome,” Sean said. “He was just a real freakin’ solid human being.”

Each time Sean puts on his New York Mets jersey, the pitcher honors David by wearing the number 59.

David died on Jan. 5 after cancer had spread throughout his body.

David was 59 years old.

Sean learned of David’s death when he received a phone call in the morning. That day, Sean was in Mexico for a friend’s wedding. Later that night, Sean said, he agreed to a two-year guarantee with the Mets.

“There was a lot going on,” Sean said. “A lot of contrasting emotions that day.”

For much of that day, Sean tried to withhold his sadness. It was his friend’s wedding, he’d remind himself. Try to just focus on that for now, he’d tell himself.

By the next day, it all hit him. He would no longer be able to call David. He would no longer be able to see him.

“It was, like, ‘Oh, my God. He is gone, gone.’ That really hit hard. It was tough. Really tough,” Sean said. “It was just a waterfall of sadness.”

The Manaea brothers from left to right: Sean, David, Dane. (Photo courtesy Sean Manaea)

For the next few days, David and his family — he is survived by his wife, three kids and five grandchildren — consumed most of Sean’s thoughts. Signing with the Mets? That didn’t really register for a while. After Mexico, Manaea went to New York to take a physical, but his mind was elsewhere. After a few days, Manaea traveled to Indiana for David’s funeral.

After the funeral, Sean and a few family members sat together inside the house and talked about David. After some time passed, Sean’s baseball career came up in the conversation. Then came a question of what number he would wear with the Mets. Immediately, Sean thought of something.

“Wait,” he said aloud, “How old was he again?”

Fifty-nine. In the major leagues, Sean had always worn a number in the 50s. But he was never one of those players attached to a specific number. So on the day of David’s funeral, Sean decided he’d wear a number this season with extra meaning. He’d wear No. 59.

“This is perfect,” Sean said.

In the months before David’s passing, Sean, 32, said things hadn’t been looking good, that he was trying to get him some help, some treatment. He said he wishes he could’ve done more for David, but learned too late how aggressively the cancer had spread. “One second, things were relatively OK,” Sean said, “and then the next, he had to be put in hospice. He got put in hospice and he passed away that night. It just happened so quickly.”

When Sean talks about David, he says his brother is in a better place. That gives him comfort. Sean’s father is 83 years old; for much of Sean’s life, David, who worked at a Ford Motor plant, acted like a second dad. David was easygoing, kind, the sort of person who came across as genuine, never pushy. Each step of Sean’s baseball career, David was there supporting him.

“However I can,” Sean said, “I just want to carry on his memory.”

(Top photo of Sean Manaea: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)

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