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Monahan continues family tradition at Pacifica
Tommy Monahan is getting ribbed pretty good.
It’s a Friday afternoon, and Pacifica High’s baseball team is tending to the field after practice.
Monahan is relieved of his duties to answer a few questions and take a couple photos. He’s not shy, but the attention he’s receiving in front of his teammates has him a bit hot under the collar. He asks whether he should look at or away from the camera. He asks if he should smile.
His teammates, staring at this point, are loving it.
“Smile, Tommy!” someone yells. “Ayyy!” yells another. “Look at that guy!”
Monahan likes to rib, so he can take it. Not that he has a choice.
The Mariners had beaten Woodrow Wilson High, 6-4, the day before, with Monahan, the team’s main source of power, going 2 for 4 with a solo home run – his second in as many games.
Monahan will collect two more hits Saturday in a losing effort. Monday, in a doubleheader against San Clemente High, Monahan will record his fifth multi-hit game of the season, though again in a losing effort.
Pacifica is playing elite teams early, but is under .500, with a tough upcoming schedule and a roster bereft of experience.
Monahan, though, is hitting close to .500 through the second week of March, one of the best averages in Orange County.
“Not a lot of people can take failure like baseball players,” he says. “You have to be mentally strong. You have to take outs and come back from them. The best baseball players make outs seven out of 10 times. Not many athletes can deal with that kind of failure.”
Monahan said he’s seeing the ball better than he ever has, and his shoulder is showing no ill-effects of off-season surgery.
He said he’s stronger now than years past, having spent the summer and part of the fall rehabbing and lifting weights.
“Tommy’s a Pacifica Guy,” Mariners coach Mike Caira said. “He’ll be here long after he graduates. He’s a guy you want around your program. He’ll leave his mark here.”
The Monahans are a baseball family.
Tommy is the youngest of four sons – all baseball players. Older brothers Matt, Kevin and Steven lettered at Kennedy High years ago, with Kevin and Steven playing there for Caira, who left Kennedy for Pacifica in 2007. Tommy will likely become the latest Monahan to continue his career in college.
“I’m looking to pass them all,” he says.
Caira sees in Tommy a mixture of his three siblings. He has Kevin’s size, Caira says, and Steven’s smarts. Caira figures that’s a product of Tommy being the youngest, the son who had his pick of everyone’s best qualities.
The coach can’t say enough nice things about the Monahan boys. Tommy, especially.
“Tommy has his own personality,” Caira said. “He’s a likeable guy, the most fun, nicest kid you’ll meet. He’s the epitome of this team. He’s a grinder. He plays with pride.”
Tommy Monahan’s baseball education began in his front yard, where he and his older brothers often played wiffle ball. Wiffle ball turned into tee ball, which turned into youth leagues and travel ball. The Monahans always played for their father, who coached club locally.
Baseball equated to life, Monahan learned years ago. And hard work and dedication always paid off.
“You could say I was a sponge early,” Monahan said. “Everyone told me what I was doing right and wrong. After a while, I could squash pretty quickly what I was doing wrong. I kept making improvements. There’s always room for improvements.”
Pacifica in 2012 captured its second Empire League championship under Caira and its first CIF title.
Monahan was a freshman that year, a lower-level stud who Caira said received invaluable experience watching his teammates – future college ballplayers such as Kyle Davis (USC) and Max Bethell (Cal Poly Pomona) – work daily. Caira said his senior class that year spent time mentoring Monahan and his classmates, showing them the ropes, the Pacifica Way.
Their graduation in the spring left large holes at premium positions, which Caira in 2013 filled with Monahan and other sophomores.
“Tommy had the maturity to be at that level,” Caira said. “Physically, he was mature. Mentally, he was mature. I pick my varsity players by asking myself ‘Does he look like he belongs?’ Tommy belonged. He lived in the weight room. He fit the bill. He wasn’t well polished, but he was without a doubt the guy in left field.”
Monahan hit .291 in 68 plate appearances in 2013, but struck out twice as often as he walked. His defense in left field kept him in the lineup, and Caira said Monahan’s bat came around late. “He just didn’t want to spike himself,” Caira joked. “But he became more comfortable as the year went on.”
Connor Kloss also started for Pacifica that season, hitting .321 in more than 100 plate appearances. Kloss, Monahan’s classmate and teammate on junior varsity, lauded Monahan’s work ethic, calling it “the key for him” in 2013 and “contagious.” Every team needs a guy like Tommy, Kloss said.
Pacifica’s turnover in personnel two years ago resulted in a 15-12 record, its worst since 2008, Caira’s second year at the school.
Monahan said he tries not to think too much at the plate.
He’s a first-ball hitter with patience. He’s walking more, but makes a ton of contact. Monahan can drive the ball gap to gap, something he couldn’t do last season because he pulled everything. He made his share of easy outs swinging that way and left too many men on base for a power hitter.
Monahan still hit .326 with 11 extra-base hits slotted in the heart of Pacifica’s batting order. He received second-team All-Empire League laurels at season’s end.
Caira said Monahan last year began better understanding charts and scouting reports. He went from being a “grip-and-rip” hitter, as Caira called him, to being methodical, more selective at the plate. Now, he is Caira’s greatest run producer, though opposing pitchers these days rarely throw him anything good to swing at.
“I love the game,” said Monahan, who works part-time at a local batting cage, where he said he gets hundreds of additional swings in every week. “Coach is intense, but he’s teaching us a lot of stuff, good lessons. Baseball is a thinking man’s game. I could’ve played a body sport – a sport where you use your body a lot – but I needed a better challenge.”
Defensively, Monahan is agile in left field and rangy. He has a plus arm, the kind against which opposing coaches alter their base-running schemes.
He’s full effort, all the time.
“Tommy does all the small things,” Kloss said. “He definitely shows himself on the field.”
Monahan in December got a tattoo of his family crest for his 18th birthday. It’s on his left shoulder, where the drastic farmer’s tan on his arm begins.
His brothers have the same tattoo, and like baseball, it’s something they’ll always share, no matter how far apart they are.
“We’re a close family,” Monahan said.
Kloss used the word “goofy” to describe Monahan in one word. He said Monahan is as laid back as he is intense, but remains the hardest working player on a team full of proactive letter winners. Sometimes, Kloss said, it’s the laid-back kid who “gets the job done.”
Caira later called Monahan “a coach’s player,” then repeated what Monahan said earlier in the afternoon about baseball players dealing with failure. No matter how many times Monahan fails, Caira says, he bounces back. “He has consistent high-quality at bats.”
Monahan has taken on a leadership role in this final season. Pacifica graduated five starters from last year’s team, leaving Monahan and his classmates in charge of shepherding the underclassmen and newcomers.
Tradition, Caira said, never graduates.
“I’m a loose, fun guy,” Monahan said. “You can’t take baseball so serious sometimes. I’ll put myself in the younger guys’ shoes, because that’s how I was when I was their age. I help as much as I can. I want to keep this tradition alive.”
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