One of my favorite stories from last season dates back to the beginning of spring training. The Mariners were playing a game, and Jesus Montero put a ball in play, and when Shannon Drayer watched him running down to first, she couldn't believe what she saw -- so early in camp, Montero was dogging it. As a young player, on a new team. Then, later, Montero put another ball in play. Then, later, Montero put another ball in play. It began to dawn on Drayer that, no, actually, that's just how Jesus Montero runs. Somehow his terrible running form must have escaped the Yankees' attention, probably because the Yankees don't actually watch their own prospects, since that takes time away from hyping said prospects to scouts and the media.
There wasn't much Montero could do about his running over the course of the season. It's a difficult thing to work on, especially when you're trying to hit and defend and learn a new pitching staff. But Montero went into the offseason with running and conditioning being his top priority. It's pretty much all that he worked on, for hours a day, most days of the week. Said Montero some while back:
"I spent a lot of time running and working on my techniques about running," he said. "That's what I did. I ran a lot and I learned how to run."
Right, okay. Said Eric Wedge, in Peoria:
Wedge said Montero looks like he is running a little better after spending the offseason working on his speed in Venezuela, though he called it "a work in progress."
"He's still not in the shape I'd like him to be in," Wedge said. "But in regard to the footwork and some of the fundamentals of running, I feel like he's better in that sense. He's still a young player that is learning a great deal."
In Eric Wedge's estimation, Jesus Montero's running has made progress. In Eric Wedge's estimation, Jesus Montero's running isn't yet where the team would like it to be. Thus, we may conclude that Jesus Montero almost knows how to run.
Which is good, in that it represents a step forward. But it's progress in something that's kind of humiliating to have to be working on in the first place. It's something so fundamental, as if the Mariners had to have a player spend the offseason working on learning how to sit down and then stand up again. You should just have a half-decent running form naturally. Throwing overhand, that's something you learn. Motion -- that's innate. I don't think it can be pointed out enough that one of our 2013 spring-training fluff stories has to do with a hotshot young player getting better at running. Not base-running, not stealing. Running. A player is learning how to do what five-year-olds do for fun.
In Montero's defense, it isn't an easy thing to conquer muscle memory, and he grew up in a forest in which the natives were terrorized by an evil dragon that could sense motion from many miles away. So the locals developed a very particular form of locomotion in which they moved as quickly as possible while remaining on their tip-toes so as not to rouse or alarm their oppressor. Montero knows now that there is no more dragon, not in Seattle, not in the ballparks, but that's years upon years of repetition to undo, and it takes more than a few months to erase such a habit. The Mariners need to be understanding, they need to be patient.
But think about the things we'd like for Montero to be able to do better. Think about the things we'd like for all young position players to be able to do better. We want them to hit better, we want them to defend better, and we want them to, I don't know, have better endurance. We take for granted that players in the major leagues know how to run. We take for granted that players in the minor leagues know how to run. We take for granted that our neighbors' shit kids know how to run. Jesus Montero spent the whole offseason running. I kind of want him to just not swing at so many sliders.
Somewhere along the way, Jesus Montero learned how to run wrong. No one corrected him, and it probably only got worse and worse. Jesus Montero is probably going to make more money than you'll see in your lifetime as a professional athlete. Matthew was right the other day. Jesus Montero's running form is the present-day equivalent of Jose Lopez getting braces. These things, you can't even dream them up.