By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Cubs have great support for their players — from a physical, coaching and mental health aspect. With the evolution of psychological coaching in sports, the once-dreaded area of self-doubt is now more open.
Catcher Miguel Montero, formerly an old-school type, has learned that even the strongest-minded individual can use a positive force of energy from an outside source. A 33-year-old former All-Star catcher, Montero was going through the worst down slide of his career this season. Two bulging disks in his back had taken away his ability to throw and hit during the first three months of the year.
After Montero landed on the disabled list and came back in less-than-ideal game shape, the Cubs didn’t really know what to do with their former starting catcher. The league was stealing bases at will on Montero, and and he struggled to hit the ball out of the infield. Added to the uncertainty for Montero was the ascension of rookie Willson Contreras to the big leagues. The 24-year-old Contreras brought new energy to the position, and he had the tools that suggested it was time to play him everyday and release Montero.
With David Ross catching Jon Lester every fifth day and having a resurgent 2016 campaign, Montero began thinking for the first time in his career he was done as a ballplayer.
“I am a guy that has a strong mind, and that can be a weakness,” Montero said. “I had a closed mind to help because I thought that was showing I was weak mentally. Finally, my thoughts told me I was a bad player and I believe in my thoughts. That is when I opened up my thinking. I said, ‘OK, I am in trouble.’
“I am not going to lie, I had a lot of bad thoughts in my mind. I have a really good psychologist I now work with named Peter Crone. He works a lot with me. We talk a lot, maybe once a week on the phone. Those conversations with Peter are the most help I have had all year. At the end of the day, he has helped me to learn how to be happy even when things out of your control are not working out.”
Montero has taken that new direction back onto the field and is helping the team win games again. His signal-calling and bat once again have put him in the spotlight of the playoff roster conversation.
A walk-off home run before the Cubs’ clinching party on Friday was a highlight to the season for the likable Montero.
“What I have learned the most this year is there is no reason to be mad about negative results,” Montero said. “The next thing you know, you can waste 365 days of your life being mad. There is no reason for it. You can control your responses. Try to stay upbeat, do your work and be happy.”
With playoff roster spots still up in the air, manager Joe Maddon and the front office are still gauging the status of the catching crew for October. After hitting around .200 most of the season, Montero is hitting .371 in his last 14 games, dating back to Aug. 20, with three doubles, two home runs and seven RBIs.
“I want to keep them all playing for now,” Maddon said when asked about the catching status of Montero moving forward. “I think Miggy has resurfaced nicely. I am just trying to balance the whole thing out and keep them all sharp. Miguel’s whole game is better. He looks more like the player he was last year. Everything has gotten better. The throwing and hitting are better. He has a good bounce in his step right now. He has picked everything up. I give him a lot of credit.”
Three catchers or only two in October? Montero has given the Cubs’ decision-makers something to think about over the next two weeks.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.