I was present for the Jesús Montero ice cream debacle. It was quite an experience.
Jesús Montero drops bombs. I’m talking lazily hitting the ball 400 feet; truly making it look easy as he goes through the motions in batting practice, putting forth the kind of effort that a lot of guys do when they’re just getting loose in the first few rounds. The only difference is those other players hit weak grounders and lazy pop flies in those rounds, while Jesús Montero hits balls over the scoreboard in left center.
This was my first experience with Jesús Montero on that hot August day in Boise, Idaho; I was in his BP group, feeling emasculated in the face of his incredible raw power. This is not what most people remember about that day, though, for this was the day of the now-infamous Jesús Montero ice cream incident.
Here's what happened from my perspective, as well as the events that led to this spectacle.
2014 Spring Training
Montero showed up to Spring Training in 2014 with a little too much fluff on him; as in, 40 extra pounds of it. He had spent the preceding offseason in his native country of Venezuela, rehabbing a knee injury while playing Winter Ball there. As he told the News Tribune, “I gained a lot of weight in my country. So, now, I’m on a program to lose weight. I’m working really hard to get my weight back. I wasn’t doing nothing, just eating.”
This was well-documented by the media, and the former top catching prospect did not break camp with the Mariners that year due to this issue. After a disappointing 2013 season marred by the knee injury, a 69 OPS+, and a 50-game PED suspension, it was an inauspicious start to 2014 for Montero. He had already lost some value to the Mariners due to his inadequacy behind the plate, forcing them to move him to first base. Now he was too much of a slob to play at all.
He was sent to Triple-A Tacoma to get himself in shape before potentially returning to the big leagues in Seattle.
Give Jesús Montero some credit; he did what he had to do in Tacoma. He got into much better shape, as instructed, and put up an .839 OPS across 97 games for the Rainiers. He was named the Pacific Coast League's Player of the Month after a sizzling July, and was probably in line for a September call-up.
Then he strained an oblique in the middle of August, unfortunately.
This is what brought him to the Class-A Everett AquaSox a few weeks later, where Seattle Mariners cross-checker Butch Baccala would be waiting.
"You didn't get the bunt down yesterday. I didn't know you were that kind of player." That was the first thing Butch Baccala ever said to me. I was rounding the BP turtle before the game after my round of swings, when he descended from the ledge behind the screen and decided to confront me about a failed bunt from the night before.
"I stuck my neck out for you. I expect better." That was the second thing Butch Baccala ever said to me. I had no idea who this person was at the time. He was a burly, middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair, a solid tan, and piercing blue eyes. He was dressed like a skateboarder: chinos, Vans, stylish glasses, and a Henley shirt. Certainly not your usual scout-attire. But he knew me, and he was unhappy with my bunting shortcomings. (I ended up getting a hit and RBI that at bat. Gotta get that bunt down, though!)
The Seattle Mariners had just selected me in the 24th round that year, and, apparently, Butch had a lot to do with that. I met with many scouts prior to being drafted, but I did not remember him being one of them. But hey, I guess he was on my side until I stunk up the joint and didn't lay down that sacrifice bunt.
This was August 28th, 2014. Although Butch Baccala was a bit prickly with me, it would not be his last antagonizing moment that day.
Butch was sent to check on Jesús Montero. As a national cross-checker, however, he was constantly checking on everyone in the organization, hence his glowing review of me. Montero was shipped to Boise to get himself back in a groove after his oblique injury. The plan was simple; Montero would mix in with us in batting practice but not play the first few games, then get some at bats as a DH to see how he felt before being called back up to Tacoma and maybe the Majors after that.
I was the DH on August 28th, so I got to spend a good amount of time with Jesús on the bench. James Alfonso, a catcher and friend of mine, spent whole innings picking his brain on what it was like in the Show, as did I. These sessions were interrupted by him moseying over to coach first base, something he was under no obligation to do for us. But he did. My personal experience with Jesús Montero was a pleasant one.
You could tell he had been humbled by his very-public failings. He was once a top-five prospect in baseball, a Mike Piazza-level hitting talent at catcher. Then the Yankees traded him to the Mariners for Michael Pineda after a short-but-successful 18-game stint (.996 OPS) in the Major Leagues as a 21-year-old, and things changed for Montero in a hurry. He was below average in 2012, his first full season in the Majors, then he had an injury/suspension-plagued 2013, then came the disaster that was 2014.
There was no chip on Montero's shoulder to speak of. He genuinely seemed at peace with not being the "Next Big Thing" anymore. "Ya cumplí mis sueños," he told me. I already fulfilled my dreams. I assumed those dreams involved simply playing in the Major Leagues, something so few have ever accomplished.
I would not conflate these emotions with apathy or laziness; he would not have put in so much work to get in shape that season if he didn't care anymore. But Montero seemed content to simply enjoy the game he loved without the burden of unachievable expectations, even if it meant coaching first base in a game between the Boise Hawks (Cubs affiliate) and the Everett AquaSox.
For several innings, Jesús Montero did exactly that: coach first base, collect everyone's batting gloves, elbow guards, shin guards, etc., head back to the dugout, and hang out with me and James Alfonso. I learned that he used several different-sized bats depending on how hard the pitcher was throwing, the heaviest being 35 ounces and the lightest being 31 ounces. Alfonso gleaned information about catching defense (Montero was probably not the best person to ask, but it still made for good conversation). It was a nice little routine.
Then shit hit the fan.
The stones on Butch Baccala. First he heckles Montero for walking between innings instead of jogging. Okay, low-hanging fruit, I guess. Montero just looked confused when he got into our dugout on the third base side. I know he heard it, but I don't think he even registered who said it. Regardless, it seemed to roll off his back. Guy was a big leaguer, I'm sure he'd heard much worse.
But then...oh baby...THEN this dude decided to order an ice cream helmet for Montero and have it delivered to him in the dugout! Most outlets reported that it was an ice cream sandwich, I'm not sure why. It wasn't. It was one of those mini helmets that you can eat out of.
A young blonde girl, probably an intern for the team, sheepishly entered the dugout through the tunnel, holding the ice cream. She couldn't have been more than 16 or 17. She walked up to Montero, who was seated at the end of the bench, and said "This is from your scout friend."
Montero looked up at her, confused, although you could see he was starting to put things together. He stood up. "Who sent this?" he asked her. She stared at him for a second, clearly intimidated by the 6'3", 235-pound man in front of her, whose blood pressure was spiking. "Your...scout...friend?" she said, quite flustered.
He snatched the ice cream out of her hand and grabbed one of his bats (the big dog, the 35-ouncer) and marched into the tunnel, which featured access to the bleachers. No one knew what to do. Everybody in the dugout was just waiting for what would happen next.
You could see into the stands from the right side of the dugout, so we got a clear view of the action. Montero came roaring towards Butch with lumber in one hand and ice cream in another. There was a lot of unintelligible shouting between them, though it was clear Butch was startled. Montero pointed down at him with his bat, bringing the barrel inches from his face as Butch remained in his seat. Then the ice cream came crashing down onto him.
Imagine Rob Gronkowski throwing ice cream onto your back after scoring a touchdown. That's how epic this ice cream helmet spike was.
Montero was eventually restrained by our manager, Dave Valle, and our pitching coach, Nasusel Cabrera, who rushed into the stands once they realized what was happening. They were able to wrangle him back into the dugout through the tunnel after a few minutes.
Jesús Montero cried. Hard. He plopped down on the bench and lost it. Coaches and players alike consoled the burly catcher as humiliation and guilt flowed out of him. Then Butch Baccala came into the dugout looking to confront Montero!
Did I mention this dude had some stones on him? First he mocks him on the field, then he sends him ice cream (I believe it was mint chocolate chip), then he nearly gets in a brawl over it, then he decides he wants some more of Montero? With ice cream running down his back? Good Lord.
Montero exploded in anger again, obviously. A couple guys fought to restrain him while a few more tried to get Baccala as far away from him as possible. It was a shit show. An absolute shit show.
Butch Baccala and Jesús Montero both left the game after this incident, Montero to the clubhouse to cool off, and Butch to...I'm not sure.
Montero was sent home after ice cream-gate, while Butch was fired. Montero would appear in 38 games for the M's in 2015, then bounce around from the Blue Jays to the Orioles, though he never played in another Major League game after '15. Now 30, he is likely done playing baseball. Butch Baccala is currently the President of Athlete 911, a company that helps develop and market young ballplayers.
I do not imagine they send each other Christmas cards.
Moral of the Story?
What an experience this was. Never seen anything like it, before or since.
I genuinely felt bad for Montero, as I think everyone should in this instance. Yes, he made mistakes that led him to that point in his baseball career, but no one deserves to be embarrassed like that, especially over a problem he was actively working to solve. As for Butch Baccala, maybe he just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that day? He made no new friends on August 28th, 2014, that's for damn sure.
Moral of the story? I guess it's to consider the weight (no pun intended) of your words and actions before behaving rashly, like both of these men failed to do that day in Boise, Idaho.
Oh, and one more moral to this story.
Bunting is stupid. Hit missiles, kids.