By John Bohnenkamp
A lesson Chris Monroe learned at the beginning of his summer league baseball coaching career is one he still carries with him.
Monroe was working in the Northwoods League when his team started the season with a two-week road trip.
“(The league schedule was) 73 games in 78 days,” said Monroe, who is an assistant coach with the Burlington Bees in the Prospect League this season. “(The manager) said if you really want to coach, you’re going to find out this summer, and you’re going to find out real quick.
“It was like day 10, and I’m dragging a little bit. I’m throwing (batting practice), I’m tired. He’s like, you better figure this out, if this is something you want to do.
Monroe figured it out.
“And here we are eight years later,” he said.
Monroe, who spent this college season as an assistant coach at Spoon River (Ill.) Community College, said the opportunities he’s been given coaching have been something he’s appreciated, especially in summer league baseball.
“People say, ‘Why do you like coaching summer ball so much?”” Monroe said. “Well, look at the atmospheres you’re in. The weather’s warmer, the fans are coming out to watch you play.”
Monroe found out about the Bees from Jack Gray, a Burlington native who pitched for the Bees last season, and who was coming back to be the team’s pitching coach this season. Monroe was Gray’s pitching coach when the two were at Western Illinois in the 2021 season.
“Jack called me and asked me if I was interested,” Monroe said. “I said, “Prospect League? Oh yeah.’ I had some interviews for some other jobs, but I talked to (Bees manager) Owen (Oreskovich) and I really liked what he said.”
“Chris was looking for an opportunity,” Oreskovich said. “He wants to get out here and learn anything he can.”
“I’m happy he’s here,” Gray said. “He’s going to fit right in with the coaches, the players, the atmosphere.”
Monroe said for players on summer-league teams, it’s often about getting out of a comfort zone.
“At some point, if you’re going to be a good ballplayer, you have to learn to do things yourself,” he said. “Take ownership of your career. The stage that you’re going to be on, a lot of the guys haven’t done that before. A lot of these guys are away from home, far away from home. That’s part of the growing-up process.”
Monroe has done the same thing. He grew up in Massachusetts, near Boston, so coming to the Midwest was a change.
“When I first got here, it was definitely a culture shock,” Monroe said. “I was so used to, on the East Coast especially, a lifestyle that was fast-paced. For me, I had to adjust to that. I had to be like, ‘Dude, you don’t have to get this done right now.’ You can be more personable.
“I think I’m doing a better job of adjusting to it. You don’t have to do everything right at this minute. You can take the time to evaluate something, make sure it’s done the right way. It’s definitely a place for me right now. I really enjoy it. I don’t see myself being anywhere else right now.”
Monroe grew up around summer league baseball, going to Cape Cod League games as a child.
“My family had a vacation house on the Cape,” he said. “It was real easy at 8, 9, 10 years old, to walk across the street and watch a game.”
The opportunities he’s had with the summer leagues are something he wants players who are considering playing professional baseball to experience.
“In my playing career, I wasn’t good enough to play collegiate summer ball,” Monroe said. “So if you’re one of these guys that say you want to take the summer off, well, number 1, you’re missing the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone. Number two, you say you want to play professional baseball but you don’t want to play another 60 games after playing 40 games of college ball, well, you’re lying to yourself.
“What’s it going to be? If you can’t play 80 games between college and summer ball, but you think you can get up for 162 (in Major League Baseball), it’s not happening. It’s a great privilege and a great opportunity to do this, so you may want to think twice before saying no.”
Oreskovich’s approach is for his players to have fun while working on their games, and Monroe shares that.
“The big thing is we want you to go back to school better than when you came to us this summer,” he said. “If we send you back to your school and you’re better than you were when you got here, then we did what we’re supposed to.
“The game rewards the players who go about their business every day. My college coach used to say that to me all of the time. He’d always say the best players are the ones who are most consistent. And consistency isn’t just your play. It’s your approach to the game. Are you a good teammate, are you good to the fans, are you good to that little kid who wants that signed baseball? When your host family asks you to respect your home, are you doing those things to the best of your ability? That’s all part of the process.”
The process Monroe has experienced has taken him to different places. It’s all about figuring things out.
“That’s how life works,” he said.
Photo: Bees assistant coach Chris Monroe (right) talks with Charlie Terrill during a game last week. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)