Tucked away in the minors, Tommy Monza has been struggling. In 2006, he was on everyone’s ‘can’t miss’ list.
The hope and the dream was right there on the sandlot of Scottsdale’s Horizon High. Famed for developing players that reached ‘The Show’ including Brandon Wood and Tim Alderson, Tommy was cast into the limelight early. As is custom in Arizona, in a land where former ballplayers and scouts gather at the drop of a dime or where ever a free ticket into a game is available, opinions are as available as armpits. The “I remember when…” or the “He looks a lot like….” run rampant. The smell of the dirty uniform and the whiff of rosin is all it takes to make the gathering a daily ritual around the Valley. Armed with a cup of coffee from Frys up Greenway a bit, all eyes are on the kid in center field, loosening up.
“Not sure I’ve ever seen a kid with so much action on his 2-seamer at this age.”, said one. “Reminds me of Duren, back in the day.”, said another. “Duren? You think the kid has a problem with his eyes?”, questioned the old codger who once was a star with the Oakland Oaks of the old PCL. “I saw Duren and he really couldn’t see without those big specks.”, he continued. “This kid’s using big glasses to scare the opposing left handed hitters.” “I played against Duren and they said he just wore those glasses to scare the hitters,” said another.
True today as it was in a time long ago. Tommy wore big rimmed glasses simply to scare the hell out of the opposing hitters. He figured that with his velocity, he could occasionally throw one over their heads and have every one of the hitters drifting back a bit on their heels. But in all honesty, he threw flames. His 2-seamer danced. It was like watching Koufax at 17. Like Koufax, Monza was using high school to win a scholarship to a major baseball power in the collegiate ranks.
That was 2006. Things didn’t exactly work out as planned. He did earn his scholarship to the University of Miami but changed his mind because of his family and signed with USC. Once there in the land of Troy, he got hurt in his Freshman year and underwent Tommy John. To his good fortune, he had the best Tommy John surgeon in the world repair his arm, Dr. Frank. Monza’s ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction, where his medial elbow was replaced with a tendon from his forearm, worked to perfection. In about a year, TM was throwing again, first tentatively, using his Sophomore season as a recovery year. Hitting the books gained him a new prospective on things and he found a fascination for medicine. This new attention to physical conditioning improved his overall outlook on life. Baseball suddenly became a ‘second most important thing’ in his new world of discovery.
By his Junior year, he was back on the mound. Everything felt just a bit different. The most noticeable difference was the connection between his ears and where the ball ended up. Before the surgery, he could work the ball at will to any point around the paint. Now his confidence level had taken a turn to the unknown. His target was as big as the backstop. In a word, he was ‘wild’. Remarkably, he could take a couple of steps back from behind the mound and zero a throw to a precise position. He found, after his operation, he couldn’t throw from the mound but any distance from more than 60’ 6”, he was devastating.
The experts most clubs carry try to ‘fix’ everyone for everything. Believe it or not, they have opinions on everything. I once knew a coach who actually gave advice on how to chew gum during a game. “You take a new square of Bazooka and begin on the right side of our mouth, if you are a right hander. If you are a lefty, then begin on the other side. Take twenty chews on one side before shifting to the other side. It’s all about symmetry. Can’t be out of balance to play baseball.”
Most of the time, the magic of baseball advice came in the form of remembrances. Sparky Anderson stated, “Casey (Stengel) knew his baseball. He only made it look like he was fooling around. He knew every move that was ever invented and some that we haven’t even caught on to yet.” Or listening to Willie over at Don & Charley’s after a spring game in Scottsdale Stadium, “Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business. But what it most truly is…is disguised combat. For all its gentility, its almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps.”
For Tommy, it was the daily advise session from the latest coach or pitching expert. “Your right elbow has to be closer to the body as you begin your motion to the plate. That shorter distance allows for better control. Believe me!”, said one. “Your push off has to be stronger and you always have to remember, never over extend.”, prompted another. “It’s all about the release point. It has to be right here.”, a former Hall of Famer suggested. The problem was, Tommy lost his pinpoint control off the mound. That was the bad news. Tommy believed in Jon Lester’s advice, “We have two options, give up or fight.”
The good news was Tommy could throw out a runner at any base from the outfield. It was bringing a whole new dimension to playing the game. A runner simply could not advance without risking a cannon throw from center via the Tommy-gun.
This spring, he is hitting .426 with a 1.029 OPS, hammering 6 home runs and driving in 17 runs. As Mickey Mantle said, “Hit the ball over the fence and you can take your time going around the bases.”
With Adam Eaton out 6 to 8 weeks, the Diamondbacks may have found a spot in the lineup for Tommy the phenom. We all have to dream. It is a part of baseball that keeps us all with the game. If it were only that easy or true. April fool. Tommy doesn’t exist. We all hope that he, or someone like him, would be real and be able to give our team new hope. It’s the dream we all have as another season of baseball begins this week
Bob Feller noted, “Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.” Let’s all have a great season.