CLEVELAND (AP) – Johnny Manziel spent a day away from football hanging out with little kids and major leaguers.
And after waiting through the rain, the rookie quarterback’s first pitch got sacked.
Manziel and Cleveland’s other first-year players attended two events Wednesday. The first was at a Berea elementary school, where they kicked off a community service program inside a packed gymnasium that filled with high-pitched screams the moment Manziel entered. He slapped as many hands as he could before taking a seat with his teammates.
After being handed the microphone, Manziel introduced himself to the crowd.
“I’m Johnny Manziel, and I’m from Texas,” he told the kids.
As if everyone didn’t know.
Later, while meeting some players inside Cleveland’s clubhouse before the Indians hosted the Red Sox, there was one youngster who wasn’t sure if he was looking at the man nicknamed Johnny Football.
Manziel had just met center fielder Michael Bourn, when Bourn’s 4-year-old son, Bryson, asked his dad a question.
“Is that him?” he said, pointing at Manziel, who laughed.
Manziel was scheduled to throw out one of two ceremonial first pitches — along with fellow first-round pick Justin Gilbert. But after a nearly two-hour delay, Manziel’s moment on the mound was canceled.
Indians manager Terry Francona had been looking forward to seeing the former Heisman Trophy winner’s arm.
“I hope he scrambles,” Francona said.
Instead, Manziel was introduced along with his teammates as the grounds crew began preparing the field for a 9:30 start. Manziel waved to the rain-soaked fans and treated them to his trademark, finger-rubbing “money” gesture. As he left the field, fans chanted, “Here we go Brownies, here we go.”
Earlier in the day, Manziel posted a photograph on Twitter of him as a kid wearing an Indians uniform.
“The Indians were always our team growing up, and when I moved to Kerrville in middle school that was our team again,” he said.
Inside Grindstone Elementary School, the 21-year-old Manziel was in his element among more than 800 school kids.
He happily signed autographs and posed for photographs as the children, their teachers and parents clamored to be near the young star. He’s grown accustomed to life as a celebrity, so Manziel wasn’t surprised when his appearance triggered a raucous reaction from the kids on the second-to-last-day of school before summer vacation.
“I don’t think much catches me off guard anymore,” he said of the reception. “It was warm and very welcome and I’m very grateful they gave me an ovation.”
Gilbert also spoke to the crowd, drawing laughs when he said Manziel was a tough act to follow.
It’s been that way since the draft for Gilbert, who was selected with the No. 8 overall pick — 14 before Manziel — but has taken a back seat to his well-known teammate.
“It’s a tough job,” Gilbert said of following Manziel. “I’m getting used to it, though.”
Manziel’s arrival in Cleveland has triggered a run on Browns tickets and No. 2 jerseys. Although he’s still a backup behind Brian Hoyer, Manziel is the unquestioned toast of this football town.
It’s been a meteoric rise to stardom for Manziel, who knew his appearance would be one the grade schoolers would not forget.
“It’s a great experience for them,” he said. “I remember being a kid like this and the people I looked up to at the time — Derek Jeter or Brett Favre or Michael Vick or whoever it was that I loved watching play — and for these guys who are here are big Browns fans. We all know how much this community loves the Browns and what they do for us and the passion they have for us.”
There were no shrill screams when Manziel arrived for the Indians game. After spending a few minutes in the clubhouse, Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin, a fellow Texan, escorted him to the indoor batting cages where Manziel got in a few warm-up tosses to get ready for a first pitch he never got to make.
Manziel wasn’t worried about throwing a strike, noting it was the third time he had been invited to do the honor.
“I should have it figured out by now,” he said.
But he couldn’t stop the rain.
(© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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