With the sunny, clear weather we are having in Seattle today, and a friend’s mention that the University of Washington baseball team has started playing games in earnest this weekend, not to mention the fact that I am currently sitting in a friend’s apartment looking out on the Space Needle with the sliding doors open to only a light chill, I feel baseball season more and more upon us. It is a month and change away, and I don’t know if I can wait that long. I was able to get some Opening Day tickets with yesterday’s paycheck, and whereas normally I opt for the upper deck tickets that are automatically attached to a 16/20-game plan when you ask for them, I decided to go in style in the lower deck, section 144. And aisle tickets as well! It’s like they know me! I can hardly wait. I want to start this year off on a high note, because I feel like it’s going to end on one. I also have designs on a Diamond Club experience this year, but given that I am planning visits to Coors Field and Chase Stadium, next year, I am not sure I can make that happen. I desperately need a raise for all this baseball.
A short while ago, I wrote about Jesus Montero’s second chance and how I was a little gunshy about it. Montero’s weight, his attitude, his injuries, and an unfortunate altercation last year with a Mariners crosschecker at an Aquasox game when he was rehabbing all made him not only a target of derision for fans in general, but also really caused a lot of us to wonder if he really wanted to play the game. Moreover, if he really wanted to play it here in Seattle. Maybe he was used to being in an organization like the Yankees, who are even right now struggling with the choice to keep Alex Rodriguez or what seems like an obvious option to dump him, and from which Montero earned his 50 game suspension after making some other bad choices (I will hold off on any comments about Nelson Cruz, that’s not what this post is about). A lot of Montero’s career with this team seems to have been taking it for granted. Did he think we were pushovers? Did he think he could just ride it out being tossed back and forth between Tacoma and Seattle, and that was all his career would ever amount to? Did he want anything more from his career? Was he even legitimate major league material? I could go on and on with questions, because Jesus Montero seemed to be an endless black hole that demanded those questions and would never give up any answers, just sucking up criticism until the Mariners finally released him…
But that’s not what happened.
Jesus Montero changed. A lot. First, the most noticeable aspect of the changes he has made. His weight. Normally, I don’t like talking about athlete weight. There are athletes who don’t have what one might typically consider an atheletic build, and there are athletes who do, and both kinds are definitely professional and able to do what we know they can do. Weight is generally speaking not really much of an indicator of athletic skill. We all know Prince Fielder is a pudgy guy who can’t really run all that fast, but what he lacks in speed he makes up for with his bat; so I don’t judge baseball players on their weight, only whether or not they can play the game. Montero was pudgy, and was just not very good at baseball. This much we know. In fact, he was so bad at baseball, I never took any pictures of him so I don’t have any photos of my own, so I will use as a before photo, this picture taken last year, attached to a Ryan Divish article, wherein Jack Zduriencik basically says that all hope for Montero has been lost, all expectations forgotten. Then an after photo from another Divish article written a few days ago, which everyone should read if they haven’t already.
So, before and after…
Taken just about a year apart, the difference is obvious. Montero cleaned up his weight game hard. Like really hard. No more what I generally think of as “catcher’s thighs”, a smaller waist, a trimmer core. He looks less like a meatloaf and more like a baseball player. We were told last year before he came to camp – when the first photo was taken – that he had “lost weight”. I remember being pretty excited about it, then seeing photos and thinking he looked pretty much the same. Even with the lack of expectations on the Mariners’ part though, I figured they must either know something about him that the rest of us didn’t, or they simply couldn’t unload him on some unsuspecting team. 2014 went on, and the lack of expectation proved accurate. Jesus Montero just wasn’t a good baseball player.
But now? Now I have hope for Montero. The Divish article the second photo was taken from mentions a newfound humility for the catcher. Apologies. Workouts. A loss of 40 pounds. A drive that the organization hasn’t seen before. An attitude that indicates he wants to be a Seattle Mariner for once and for all, and for real. And a daughter he wants to play for now. I want this to be his thing. I want to see a new and improved Jesus Montero that was what we hoped he might be when we sent Michael Pineda east. Pineda has not done well in New York, either. I want to win this trade, dammit! I loved Michael Pineda when he was here, and until he started having problems with the Yankees, I was completely bummed about the situation and everything it led to. But now it seems that Montero’s new resolve might be making it possible to turn his career around and be a worthwhile member of the Seattle Mariners.
Will Jesus Montero be an everyday catcher for the Mariners? Probably not. Mike Zunino has come up here and pretty much owned that position, and right now it looks like Montero might find himself at more of a utility spot with first base than anything else, with Jesus Sucre and a few others battling for secondary spots at catcher in camp right now. But perhaps now his time in Tacoma is either limited or up entirely, and he might find himself a home on our major league roster for once and for all, taking some shots with Logan Morrison in the right infield. My fingers are crossed. Let’s do this, Jesus! I believe that you can do the thing!