A pas­sion for the game

Love of base­ball drives Mo­niak’s dream of mak­ing it to ‘The Show’

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tom Housenick

Mickey Mo­niak en­joyed play­ing touch and tackle foot­ball. He was up for go­ing to lo­cal Cal­i­for­nia gyms for pickup bas­ket­ball.

His heart — and as many week­ends as pos­si­ble — how­ever, were filled by base­ball.

“For me, I was al­ways drag­ging my dad [Matt] to go play tour­na­ments ev­ery week­end,” Mo­niak said. “I al­ways wanted to be on the best team, play for com­pet­i­tive teams who played ev­ery week­end.

“In Cal­i­for­nia, you could play base­ball year round. I en­joyed mess­ing around, but there wasn’t a lot of time for other sports.”

Mo­niak’s pas­sion for base­ball took him this sum­mer to ball­parks through­out Double-A’s East­ern League, and his fa­ther was re­warded for his sup­port by fi­nally see­ing his 21-year-old son hit a home run in per­son — a game-win­ner Aug. 28 at Read­ing’s FirstEn­ergy Sta­dium.

The Phillies 2016 first-round pick now hounds Read­ing hit­ting coach Tyler Hen­son in an ef­fort to ful­fill his life­long dream of help­ing the team that drafted him win a World Se­ries.

“He shows up ev­ery day just to play, get bet­ter,” Hen­son said. “He’s the first one in the cage ev­ery day. He comes in and gets me, ask­ing ‘are you ready to go?’ ”

Mo­niak is blos­som­ing in his fourth sea­son of pro ball. In 119 reg­u­lar-sea­son games with Read­ing, the left handed-hit­ting out­fielder set ca­reer highs in triples (13, which led the EL), home runs (11), RBIs (67), stolen bases (15) and walks (33).

The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder sur­vived a rough 20-game start to his Double-A ca­reer (.195 bat­ting av­er­age with 25 strike­outs) to put to­gether a steady stretch through­out the sum­mer be­fore

ad­mit­tedly wear­ing down a bit late in the sea­son.

Through it all, how­ever, Mo­niak has been a good team­mate, a hard worker and loved ev­ery minute of the ebbs and flows of a pro­fes­sional base­ball sea­son.

“He’s con­tin­ued to put to­gether qual­ity at-bats,” Hen­son said. “The big­gest thing for me is that he puts to­gether four qual­ity at-bats a night and what­ever hap­pens, hap­pens.

“He’s bought into that men­tal­ity.”

Mo­niak walked into pro­fes­sional base­ball as a clean-cut 18-year-old bur­dened with be­ing the first over­all pick.

Ex­pec­ta­tions were out­ra­geous. Phillies fans wanted the next Ken Grif­fey Jr., Alex Ro­driguez, Joe Mauer or Car­los Cor­rea. They wanted to see him in the ma­jors by the time he was old enough to legally drink.

His progress has been slow, but steady — a new level each of his first four sea­sons. His ma­tu­rity to process all that was be­ing said about him has been im­pres­sive ac­cord­ing to those who have played with him in the mi­nor leagues.

“Mickey has grinded ev­ery sin­gle year,” said Read­ing team­mate Dar­ick Hall, who was drafted in the 14th round in 2016 out of Dal­las Bap­tist Uni­ver­sity. “He gets a ton of at-bats, a ton of hits. I’ve played with him ev­ery year. I’ve seen his on-field per­for­mance grow­ing. He han­dles it all and has got­ten bet­ter ev­ery year.

“To be hon­est, I don’t think I could have made the ad­just­ment be­cause I wasn’t near the player I was com­ing out of col­lege when I came out of high school. I played a lot in col­lege, had to learn a lot be­fore I could per­form at this level. To do what high school kids have to do, es­pe­cially at this level, is re­mark­able.”

The pim­ples have been re­placed by a tat­too or two, but lit­tle else about Mo­niak has changed.

He’s never has made ex­cuses for any­thing he’s done — or not done — as a pro­fes­sional. His pas­sion and work ethic also have not wa­vered.

And, his sup­port sys­tem is the same. His fam­ily and friends are just as im­por­tant to him now as they were when he left La Costa Canyon (Cal­i­for­nia) High School.

“Af­ter be­ing away in high school, play­ing for Team USA, play­ing in dif­fer­ent coun­tries,” he said, “[pro ball] was noth­ing new to me. Liv­ing on my own, I’ve al­ways had that com­fort level. That’s not been the hard part.

“Play­ing ev­ery day, get­ting tired, the [peo­ple] to talk to would be par­ents, friends, fam­ily back home. I’m blessed to have them in my life. They’ve al­ways been a good sup­port sys­tem for me. They’ve al­ways supported me whether I’m bat­ting 1.000 for the week or not get­ting hit for a month.”

Mo­niak finds com­fort in his team­mates who share sim­i­lar skills and the same de­sire to win ev­ery time they step on a base­ball field.

He also finds so­lace in know­ing timely words of sup­port and un­der­stand­ing are only a phone call, Facetime or a text mes­sage away.

The Cal­i­for­nia na­tive’s love for the sport blos­somed more than a decade ago, with a fa­ther of­fer­ing his un­wa­ver­ing en­cour­age­ment for what­ever his son wanted in life.

“He was never that dad who pushed me into some­thing I didn’t want to do,” Mo­niak said. “I could have got­ten drafted first over­all and told him I wanted to quit, and he would have been, ‘All right, fine.’

“That’s kind of dad I have. I’ve grown up try­ing to em­u­late him and he’s al­ways been my hero. Definitely hav­ing him here watch­ing me play pro ball, ful­fill my dreams, the whole process has been un­be­liev­able.”

Mo­niak

GE­ORGE YOUNGS/READ­ING FIGHTINS

Mickey Mo­niak, the top over­all pick by the Phillies in the 2016 MLB draft, set ca­reer highs this sea­son in triples, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases and walks for Double-A Read­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.