By Janie McCauley
MESA, Ariz. — Miguel Montero produced one of the biggest hits of the Chicago Cubs’ championship run in the game that decided it all, and now he’s preparing again for life as a backup catcher.
It’s not easy — this competitor wants nothing more than to play every day.
Montero figures to start behind the plate once or twice a week when second-year big leaguer Willson Contreras needs a break — not the veteran’s ideal role or what he envisioned when he joined the Cubs in a trade from Arizona ahead of the 2015 season.
“Obviously, it was hard,” Montero said. “It’s difficult, because when you get traded over here, you’re supposed to be the everyday catcher, right? And then you come here and you’re just platooning, and then it wasn’t even like a fair platoon because (Jon) Lester was pitching, and he has a personal catcher. So you got times where I didn’t catch for four days. It’s hard to actually keep a momentum going as a hitter because you go one day you get three hits, and then you’re benched for the next four. How do you want to keep a streak going? It’s tough, because it’s about timing.
“But it is what it is. I got over with it last year, the year before. This is a new year, a new adventure, I guess. We’ll see what happens.”
The 33-year-old catcher was outspoken in his frustration last fall — “I expected to be treated a little better,” he told the Waddle and Silvy show on ESPN 1000 — at how he was used in the postseason and the lack of communication involved. During the Cubs’ victory parade, no less.
He began 2016 as the starting catcher and was needed as a regular when left fielder Kyle Schwarber went down with a devastating left knee injury and also severely hurt his ankle in an outfield collision with Dexter Fowler.
Schwarber also will do some catching this spring as he works his way back.
Montero didn’t exactly sound content Wednesday when he formally got going with the defending champs.
“All I care about is my teammates right now, man,” said Montero, set to earn $14 million in 2017. “I couldn’t care less about the rest to be honest.”
Montero’s single to left field against Cleveland’s Bryan Shaw in an 8-7, 10-inning Game 7 wound up the winning run in the Cubs ending their championship drought.
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) November 3, 2016
“Listen, man, we do not win the ring without him,” Maddon said.
As of Day One on Wednesday, Montero and Maddon had yet to chat.
Not that Maddon is worried about anything needing to be done to repair any perceived problem between them.
“At the end of last season, I know that he was not happy with the role that he had had in the playoffs, however we had discussed everything prior to that. I’m always open to discussions, but I honestly don’t believe that he’s all that upset about anything right now either,” Maddon said. “It’s one of those things I think sometimes gets over made, overblown. I understand that it reads well. But at the end of the day, man, I have a lot of respect for him. He’s a big part of what we’re going to do again this year. He was so large in our success at the end of last season.”
Montero batted .216 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 86 games last season after playing 113 the previous year.
Maddon understands that Montero arrived in Wrigleyville believing he would be a regular.
“Of course, absolutely. But he’s not the first guy. That happens to all of us,” the skipper said. “That’s just the way of the world, man, as you move it along, people are coming behind you constantly. So that’s why it’s important to remain contemporary, it’s important to stay on top of your thing, whatever it might be, be adaptable to new whatevers. Then at some point maybe your natural abilities do fade, it happens to all of us. Miggy’s fine. He’s still a very strong contributor. It’s just that his role’s going to shift right now theoretically in the beginning, but you never know.”