By John Bohnenkamp
It was an hour before Saturday’s game against the Cape Catfish, but Sam Monroe wasn’t in uniform yet.
He was on the lineup card at the top of the Burlington Bees’ batting order, his customary spot, but there was work to be done before the game
Monroe was there helping as Bees manager Owen Oreskovich and his coaching staff got the playing surface at Community Field ready. Because besides being an outfielder with the team, Monroe is also working as a groundskeeping intern.
Community Field has been his home the last two seasons — in the spring with Southeastern Community College, in the summer with the Bees in the Prospect League. It’s a place that Monroe, who is from Moline, Illinois, considers special.
“I like taking care of the ball field, making sure it looks good,” Monroe said. “Just making sure this place is nice and beautiful.”
Monroe is going to the Missouri University of Science & Technology in the fall — he’ll major in electrical engineering. But he’s enjoying taking care of Community Field, whether it’s an assignment of painting bases or painting the lines on the field.
“It’s not necessarily an internship that pertains to my major,” Monroe said. “But it’s good to keep working, do some labor in the summer.”
Monroe is making some summer money, while also getting housing at SCC, as part of his internship.
“He’s a special kind of human being,” Oreskovich said. “He likes to work. He’s not a kid that’s going to be lazy, sit around. Even if he wasn’t a grounds crew guy, an intern, he would still be the one out there helping.”
“I would be here a couple of hours before the game anyway, just because I like being around the field,” Monroe said. “ If I can lend a helping hand, I would be doing that anyway.”
Monroe is also one of the better leadoff men in the Prospect League. Monroe, who is hitting .264 in 32 games, leads the league with 31 walks. He’s tied for ninth with a .435 on-base percentage, and is tied for 11th with 27 runs scored.
“Having him at the top of the order, with that spark he has, a great eye, the ability to hit, it leads us for the entire game,” Oreskovich said.
Monroe’s consistent approach has helped him all season, and it showed in Friday’s 5-4 comeback win over the Normal CornBelters.
Monroe’s single on a 3-2 pitch with the bases loaded drove home two runs to get the Bees within 4-3 and when Normal right fielder Wilson Zuck bobbled the ball, Monroe was able to advance to second on the play. One batter later, Chase Honeycutt’s single to left-center field brought in Trey Adams and Monroe with the winning runs.
“Besides the walk-off, his was the best at-bat of the inning,” Oreskovich said, noting how Monroe had barely fouled off the pitch before his single to keep the at-bat going.
“It’s important, moments like those, that you’ve got to take at-bats the same way,” Monroe said. “You approach nobody on with one out in the bottom of the second as you would bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. You focus on what you can pull from the pitcher, stay to your approach, don’t let the moment change what you do in the box.”
Monroe grew up going to Class A Midwest League games in the Quad Cities, so he was familiar with Burlington when the Bees were members of the league.
Playing in what used to be a professional setting is something he appreciates.
“You’re in this ballpark, people ask you for autographs, things like that,” Monroe said. “I think the people here have made it a second home. It feels like I’m living out a dream of playing professional baseball. Pretend for a while it’s what I’m doing, you know?”
“He’s meant everything to our team,” Oreskovich said. “I’ve said this before, but he’s the perfect player for a summer-league team. He comes here, looking to play every day, doing what he can to help.
“He’s an awesome kid. When you talk to him about things that aren’t about baseball, he’s just awesome to talk to, enjoyable to talk to.”
Monroe is looking forward to getting to Missouri S&T. It’s his next home.
“I really liked how they approached the game of baseball,” he said. “It’s hard to find a group of players as it is, but now you have to find players who are going for an engineering degree, which is rare. I think they do a good job with it. And I couldn’t argue with the academics down there. I’m getting into a good baseball program, and getting a good education. So it’s a good situation.”
For now, he’s spending the summer taking care of his current home. And he appreciates it when his teammates lend a hand.
“Guys will come out and help set up batting practice,” Monroe said. “They don’t have to do that. But they see me helping them out, so they’ll help me out. It’s being good teammates, good friends.
“You feel like you’re a professional baseball player, the way the fans treat you here. But at the end of the day, we’re still college baseball players. So we can go out and pull tarp, we can go do things to keep this place looking great.”
Photo: Sam Monroe has played in 32 games for the Burlington Bees this season, but he’s also been working as an intern with the team, helping take care of the field. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)