BY Todd Dybas 10:04PM 01/25/2012

Montero newest star at Sports Star event

The Mariners biggest off-season made the Sports Star event, and says he is determined to be on the field every day, not just a designated hitter.

Former University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker presented the Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth Award at the Sports Star awards program to Ferndale’s Jake Finkbonner./ Photo courtesy of the Seattle Sports Commission and Red Box Pictures

That’s him?

It’s a fair initial thought when seeing Jesus Montero walk into Benaroya Hall in street clothes Wednesday night for the 77th annual Sports Star of the Year awards event.

Montero looked like he could heading to a prom this spring. He’s baby-faced and laden with opposite-field power, a combination the Mariners hope grows up with the franchise.

After sending pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos to the Yankees for catcher Montero and pitcher Hector Noesi, the Mariners hope they acquired the off-season bat that will help finally provide offense.

He’s not Prince Fielder. It’s also not $214 million guaranteed.

Instead, it’s another year of asking patience from the disgruntled fan base as the Mariners try to develop into contention.

The question that trails and could ultimately define Montero’s value is his ability to catch. He told Sportspress Northwest he’s always wanted to be a catcher.

“I like to be in the game,” Montero said. “I like to be the second manager of the game.”

Montero is already putting in work behind the plate.

“I’m a young still, I have a lot of time to keep learning a lot,” Montero said. “Right now, I am going to the stadium every single day to work on things about catching. I hope to be a catcher for a long time in the big leagues.”

Montero also explained his enjoyment of hitting to the opposite field.

“I used to watch a lot Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera,” Montero said. “Those guys are amazing, you know. I wanted to be like them, hitting the ball to right field. Six years ago, I started to do it. Everything was going well. Right now, I just like to hit the ball to right field because I see a lot of good things happening.”

Mariners manager Eric Wedge, a former catcher, has confidence in Montero’s ability to become a viable major league catcher. Wedge also points out that the Mariners retain Miguel Olivo, which means Montero does not have to be an immediate starter behind the plate.

“It’s such a multi-skill position,” Wedge said. “You want to make sure they’re able to handle the pitching staff. You look at their hands, you look at their quickness behind the plate, you look at their leadership ability. Of course, arm strength.

“We all feel that Jesus is a guy that is very capable of being a major league catcher.”

After playing a truckload of rookies last season, the Mariners will be playing a truckload of  . . . second-year guys. Acquiring the 22-year-old Montero already produced the seemingly impossible: it made the team younger.

The Mariners will rotate Montero, Mike Carp, Justin Smoak and Casper Wells through the DH spot. Wedge flatly said Montero will hit every day. He also says, with his usual exuberance, but without his mustache, he expects much more from the youngsters.

“I expect better performance, I expect better numbers,” Wedge said. “I expect more wins, and these guys can directly take care of that. I’m going to have more expectations of them and I expect them to have greater expectations for themselves and for each other.”

From Wedge’s perspective, the equation exists because Jack Zduriencik has, well, chutzpah, we’ll call it on this family-friendly site.

“It’s never easy to make a trade like that, but you have to have the guts and the will to do it because you’re doing it for the right reasons,” Wedge said. “When we talk about getting our offense kick-started with the young kids we have and adding Montero too, it’s pretty special stuff.

“You never want to lose somebody like Pineda, but if you’re going to get somebody, you’ve got to go out and give up somebody, and you’ve got to have the guts to do that, and that’s the thing I love about Jack.”

Locker Back In Seattle

Jake Locker was back in Seattle for the first time since heading to Tennessee last year. He presented the Seattle Children’s Inspirational Youth Award at the Sports Star to Ferndale’s Jake Finkbonner.

Talking football before the event, Locker said he was not surprised by Keith Price’s success this year.

“I think you could see his ability to make plays,” Locker said. “He was a confident guy, always had confidence in what he was doing. I think he really showed people how good of a passer he is.”

With all the inaccurate draft projections behind him, Locker is going to spend this off-season allowing his body to recover and working on numerous things he learned during his rookie season.

“You learn little intricacies of the game, especially from a guy like Matt (Hasselbeck) Locker said. “He has so much knowledge, and was able to share it with me.”

Bill Moos On The Mike Leach Hiring

Washington State athletic director Bill Moos visited the Sports Star of the Year and soaked up the buzz of hiring new football coach Mike Leach.

Moos previously proudly announced he was the one-man search committee for the new coach. Leach had issues from his past, and a wide-open offense. Moos went over each with him.

“The thing of course that would have caused anybody a little bit of concern was how he exited Texas Tech,” Moos said. “I looked into that and had a very blunt conversation with Mike himself and came away very comfortable. The good things, of course, are not just his style of play, but his attention to detail in all aspects. He’s tremendous disciplinarian and really a stickler on academics.”

Moos hopes he’s changed the whole tenor of the Washington State football program with the hire.

“I would like to think we would be in a position to get back to a bowl game in 2012, and certainly that’s our expectation,” Moos said.

Buhner In The House

Jay Buhner was in the house, shy as always. In an extended talk about baseball park size and home run power, Buhner provided a simple remedy for balls dying deep in Safeco Field gaps.

“Don’t hit it there,” Buhner said. “Pull the damn ball.”


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