Batter Up for Bronx Native
Columbus High Alum Waiting to Hit for the Mets
By Rich Mancuso
BRONX, NEW YORK, MAY 7- Johnny Monell got the call Monday in Albuquerque on an unscheduled off day for the Las Vegas 51’s, the New York Mets Triple-A affiliate of the Pacific Coast League. The off day was the result of a rare rain out in the southwest. The call was one he has been awaiting and iIt was was time to come home.
The Mets needing some punch off the bench, and for another left handed bat, decided it was time for the 29-year old native of the Bronx to get some more big league experience. He has had that cup of coffee the past few years, the term used for a player that gets limited time with the big club. Late in the 2013 season, Monel played eight games with the San Francisco Giants.
The Giants, as is the case with the Mets, were stocked with talent in the catching department. Manager Bruce Bochy said, Monell had the hands of a catcher and was impressed with his bat speed at the plate. But, as is the case in baseball there are so many jobs and sometimes the frustration grows.
“I’m here to do my job and help the team,” Monell commented Wednesday evening after the Mets 5-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles at Citi Field. “It means a lot. I’m just being the ballplayer I am, and control what I can control and be the best that I can.” And that’s exactly what a payer with 27 days of big league experience has to do, that is control what is front and go about everyday business.
Mets manager Terry Collins saw the attributes that Monell brought to the table. When the Christopher Columbus High School all-star was signed to a minor league free agent deal in November, Monell came to camp down in Port St. Lucie prepared to have a role with the team. He hit .340, with three doubles and four home runs and had nine RBI in 27 spring games.
The impressive numbers left an impression as the Mets headed north for the start of a long season. The Mets, with two catchers sure to make the roster, and with rookie Kevin Plawecki ready to assume a role, had no choice to keep Monell in the organization. Then the injury to Travis d’Arnaud, a fracture to the little finger of the right hand, created an opening. Three catchers now occupy the Mets roster along with Anthony Recker.
During the exit meeting when the Mets broke camp, Collins and coach Bob Geren told Monell to stay sharp and get ready for the call when needed. They saw what many in the Bronx got to learn when Monell played on the fields and was pounding the ball over the fence during his playing days at Columbus.
He may get a start or two soon. If not, Monell will come off the bench and there is every reason to believe that the Mets will retain three catchers when d’Arnaud returns from the disabled list as soon as next week. D’Arnaud has also become a good teammate as catchers are that rare breed in baseball that always stick together.
To that, he says, “I think it’s very beneficial to have different mindsets as far as the staff we have here to express our thoughts as far as scouring reports go. We talk a lot among us with Travis. Each one of us has a job to do up here. Plawecki is up here now and he’s doing the job.”
“I’m happy to be here. It means a lot to put the jersey on to respect that honor, to come to work every day in the city that I was born in and raised in. I did everything here I was raised in in the inner city parks to the big stage here. Means a lot. I’m not going to get caught up in the moment.”
“He has a lot of respect for the game and worked real hard during the spring,” Carlos Torres said the Mets reliable pitcher out of the bullen. And d’Arnaud seems to have no issue with having another catcher on the roster.
He is just trying to help the team win and take it from there. When Collins makes out the lineup Monell is ready for the challenge. And if he gets the call to come off the bench, that challenge will also be accepted, though there was an awkward moment that he was a part of Wednesday evening in the Mets half of the sixth inning.
Jacob deGrom was cruising along on the mound for the Mets. After Dilson Herrera hit a two-run homer that was challenged by Orioles manager Buck Showalter, that gave New York a four-run lead, Collins asked Monell to get a bat and make his New York Mets debut off the bench. Except, deGrom was not removed after the Mets got a cushion and Monell went to the batters box.
Collins was awaiting a decision of the home run ball that went under review. But deGrom was staying in the game and Monell never got to take his bat. He was in the batter’s box and never announced. Showalter asked for a discussion to clarify a rule. An awkward moment, even for a kid from the Bronx who saw more than one over the years on the various fields where he played on.
“No idea about the Showalter call,” he said. I wasn’t sure. I was awaiting for my name to be announced in the box. I felt great... I was ready. I knew i was going in to hit. Terry came out to see about Herrera.” But the opportunity never came and Monell was ready because he knew Orioles hurler Brad Brach, a former teammate when he was in the Baltimore minor league system in 2013.
So the days of preparing and staying in shape have paid off. Winter ball in Puerto Rico kept Monell busy and talking to his father, Johnny, who played for the Mets Tidewater Triple A Team in 1990, also was an incentive to get where he is today.
Perhaps that first bat as a New York Met at Citi Field will come soon. For the time being Johnny Monell is happy to be home, and getting a taste of the big leagues again as the Mets hit the road the next week with games at Philadelphia and Chicago.
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