Kelowna's Mike Monster gets second chance at baseball, signing deal with Anaheim
When Kelowna baseball player Mike Monster was drafted by Cincinnati in the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, he was a young prospect filled with potential.
But he admits he wasn't ready. He was never signed and soon after he was out of baseball and moved on to work and to friends.
That was four years ago. Now opportunity has struck again for the 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher, and in the oddest of circumstances.
For almost two years Monster has been out of baseball. But during the Okanagan College Coyotes alumni game about a month ago, the Rutland Senior graduate came out for fun and soon started turning heads in the bullpen when his fastball was hitting 95 miles per hour on the radar gun.
Word quickly spread and in the span of the next four weeks, Monster was throwing for an Anaheim Angels scout, was flown to Seattle to throw for the Angels assistant general manager, where his fastball hit 97 mph, before being offered a free agent contract that he signed this week.
"I guess it's kind of a shock," said Monster in an interview with the Capital News this week. "It only took a month from when I threw at the Coyotes' alumni game. I was just throwing and having fun. It's pretty crazy this happened but I'm not the kind of guy to get caught up in those things. It will be a little more real in March (before spring training). It's going to be fun."
Okanagan Coyotes baseball coach Geoff White is familiar with Monster's work on the mound. At the time White was concluding a semi-pro baseball career himself, Monster was climbing through the ranks of Kelowna Minor Baseball. He finally coached him with the Coyotes in the team's spring 2012 season when Monster jumped back into the game. And when White saw Monster throw at the Coyotes alumni game and saw the radar gun hit 95, he put the word out to his baseball contacts and got the ball rolling towards Monster's eventual signing.
"When he was warming up all of the sudden everyone stopped to watch him," said White of the bullpen session. "You could tell he was throwing hard. I was surprised. For him to hit 97...it's not very often you see that from a guy that has stepped away from the game. Mike has always had the ability to throw hard. Now I think he's gotten to a point where he is even stronger and he's become a man. It's a great to see him get the opportunity and it's up to him to run with it."
From the time he moved though minor baseball in Kelowna and advanced to the top levels in bantam AAA and then the Premier (midget) Baseball League, Monster was a top prospect. He threw hard and had lots of talent. But he also admits he wasn't ready to chase the athletic dream at the age of 18 and wanted to have a normal life with friends.
"I wasn't really physically or mentally ready," he said. "I just didn't feel like going down to the states at that point was the right decision for me. I felt like I went through a lot in terms of baseball those previous couple years. I was just 18. I just wanted to hang out with my buddies. Whether that was the right choice I will never know. It wasn't like I stopped playing and said 'never again'. I always enjoyed the sport but I never used to say 'this is what I'm going to do.' I just took a little bit of time off to find some work and I started to work out."
And taking a step away does seem to have paid off for Monster will get another chance to tryout for a professional baseball team. Now 23, he says he is ready for the opportunity, in whatever form it takes.
"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable with the situation," he said. "I'm not confused by it. I'm more mature and able to handle it better. My goal is to just do everything I can to be as good as I can. if that takes me to the top, to the major leagues someday, obviously that's what I want. Beyond giving it everything I have, it's not really in my control."
Monster will report to the Anaheim Angels spring training facility in March.