Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lou Montanez at the ESPN Zone, Sept. 9th

Lou Montanez - ESPN Zone; Sept. 9th, 2008

On Tuesday, the ESPN Zone in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor hosted its last ‘Orioles Q&A’ with the newest Oriole, outfielder Lou Montanez.

The afternoon event, which was sponsored by ESPN Zone, Baltimore Orioles public relations department and was emceed by esteemed Maryland sportscaster Tom Davis, gave fans a unique chance to ask Montanez, who in his short time in the majors has made quite an impression by batting over .300 and hitting a home run in his first ever major league at-bat.

The crowd at the popular restaurant was somewhat smaller this time around, than in the summer when kids and families were able to venture into the big city; nevertheless, the 26-year old outfielder was able to open himself up and be candid. During his 20 minute Q&A, Montanez, not only talked about his time in Baltimore, but in the minors, and how the sport he loved as a youth became his dream profession.

After the Q&A session, he signed autographs and posed for pictures in an adjacent room near general seating area of the restaurant.

Montanez, who is from the Miami area, was signed by the Chicago Cubs in the first round of the 2000 MLB Draft with the third pick, has toiled around in the minors for the past eight seasons; however, he made an impact with the Bowie Baysox (the Orioles’ Double-A team), by winning the regular season Triple Crown in the Eastern League.

He and others around him knew his big year in Bowie merited him a shot with the big club in Baltimore, but he put it all into perspective, and knew making it would be tough.

Looking back in everything so far, Lou reflected on his successful season and noted it was not without struggles as he quipped, “I started off slow – I was probably the slowest hitter on the team; I started warming up and have not stopped hitting, and it shows.”

Thus, Montanez knew he had a wonderful shot of getting a promotion to the major leagues, but he knew a few things had to happen aside from his obvious talent in order to see his name in lights at Camden Yards.

“I knew I was going to get a good shot a promotion, and luckily a few things happened on the team where I got the opportunity.” He later added, “I think you get from the coaches; there’s a lot of opportunity, a lot of talk and people are noticing what you’re doing. The players, they start motivating you and telling you, ‘oh hey, you’re doing really well and you’re going to get a good opportunity to go up there.”

Not short on confidence, he quipped on being in Baltimore, “I feel like I belong here – or I think I’ll be here.”

Incidentally, on a team that features standout youngsters Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and fan favorite, Luke Scott, Montanez is looking for a permanent spot on the roster as an outfielder – however, he’s not a natural outfielder.

He remarked on his transition from the outfield from the infield in high school – he was originally a shortstop – in response to a fan question, “there was so much competition, they found me to me to be very athletic, and probably I why I was moved from shortstop. I think they valued my offense more than my defense, so that’s kind of why I moved over.”

Montanez also added, “I don’t think I’ll be going back to shortstop, it’s not a position I’ve played in a years. It would take took a lot of years to get back and adjust to it (the outfield), but I like it.”

The topic later moved to Dave Trembley, the manager of the Orioles, and Montanez has a unique perspective on him, considering he was managed by him both in with the Chicago organization and with Baltimore, obviously.

Of course, Lou mentioned Trembley’s doctrine which happens to be etched in stone for any Oriole fan that’s followed the team since he’s come on board. “He (Trembley) wants you to be very disciplined. He’s got two rules: be on time and respect the game; as a player, that’s all you ask for out of your manager.”

About halfway through the event, Tom Davis asked Montanez about his first major home run which came in his first-at-bat ever in the major leagues off Ervin Santana of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and he said, “yeah, the first time I was up – I just wanted to make contact and didn’t strikeout. Obviously, I didn’t strikeout.”

Soon the conversation turned to the difference between the lifestyle of a major and minor leaguer, and Montanez made it sound nothing short of stark as he commented to Davis and those in attendance, “Well, the services. When you get to the ballpark, they provide everything for you; haircuts, they wash your car, they bring whatever you want. Life is easier; they (the Orioles) just want you to concentrate on baseball.”

Most people know that major leagues travel by chartered planes and buses; however, Lou said about the travel in Double-A by just simply saying, “We travel by bus, it’s all bus – we can’t drive ourselves – it’s strictly the bus.”

Alas, despite the less than sometimes luxurious accommodations that there is with minor league travel, Montanez gave a different view of the ballparks which one would assume would be old, cracky, and dingy, “Surprisingly, a lot of ballparks these days are really nice – they accommodate the players real well; especially Double and Triple-A. I have no problem with them, they are all well done.”

He also went into the preparation that he goes through when stepping foot in the ballpark as he quipped, “You have to be at ballpark for a 7:00 game at two or three o’clock. You stretch, you take batting practice; do you whatever you need to do – some guys like to go to the gym, some like to take extra batting practice, some guys like to lie around and lounge before game time and that’s how they perform,” he also added, “there are little nooks in the clubhouse if you want to take a nap you can before the game; there’s a big screen TV, some guys play video games, everyone is different.”

Soon the conversation turned to some of the young up-and-comers on the Bowie Baysox.

“There are a couple of players – especially pitchers. There’s (Brad) Bergesen, David Hernandez, doing really well, outstanding pitchers. Bergesen will probably be a guy that’s considered and Wieters – he’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever played with in the minors. He’ll be up here. Don’t forget Tillman – he’s still young – there’s not a time-table on him, but he’ll be part of the future.”

Towards the end of the Q&A, Montanez remarked on how he got into the sport of baseball and he mentioned his inspiration – his father, and the start of his story elicited quite a response from the crowd – laughter.

“I started really early, and my dad hit me in the face with a baseball, so I stopped playing for a lot of years”, Lou said in a sardonic tone, but gravitated back the sport by mentioning, “One year, I got bored in my house, and when I was ten, I just picked it up again and started playing; I’ve never stopped playing ‘til this day. I knew I had a shot at professional in my later high school years.”

Davis, a minute later asked if the outfielder was not in the sport, what would he be doing, “If was I not in baseball – I’ve always interested in planes; I’d be a pilot, or do something involved in aviation.”

Finally, the Q&A portion of the event ended as Lou spoke the on the diminishing interest in baseball with today’s kids as asked by Davis, “I think other sports are a little more popular (than baseball). There’s more popularity with football and a lot of little kids are actually playing soccer these now-a-days. I guess there are just a lot of ups and downs, sometimes one sport is more popular than another and it shows as there’s not a lot of kids coming in and playing baseball.”

He also added about the popularity of the sport internationally, “The popularity in the states may not be there for baseball, but around the world it is. Japan, Korea, the Dominican Republic – those places, it’s their national sport and a lot of talent from those places are coming in and seeping into the major leagues. Now that there’s the World Baseball Classic, it makes it kind of more interesting for the baseball players.”

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