CLEARWATER, Fla. — Tucked away at the bottom of Mickey Moniak’s backpack is a black journal. You can tell it has been well-used. It’s stuffed with stray sheets of paper and postcards. His entries aren’t in chronological order. He jokes that if someone flipped it open, they wouldn’t even know where to start.
Moniak barely knows where to start. Before this spring training, the former 2016 first-round pick had been written off by many as a failure. It took him five seasons in the minor leagues to reach triple-A. The opportunities he did get to perform at the big-league level had not been fruitful — over 29 games between the 2020 and 2021 seasons, he batted .128.
A few weeks ago, when Phillies manager Joe Girardi was asked if Moniak would be an option to platoon in center field, he demurred that Moniak wasn’t in the team’s plans at the position. And then on Sunday morning, while he was working out in the weight room, Girardi approached him.
“Hey,” he said nonchalantly. “I just wanted to let you know you’re coming with us to Philly.”
Moniak wiped a bead of sweat off of his forehead, took a breath, and soaked in what he’d just been told. He thought about all of the work he did this offseason with his longtime coach, John Peabody. He thought about those 29 subpar games in the big leagues, and what he learned from them. He thought about the work he did with Phillies hitting coach Kevin Long that helped him hit .310/.310/1.241 this spring with five home runs. But most of all, he thought about that little black journal, and the personal growth it held inside.
At the end of last season, Moniak told Phillies mental performance coach Ceci Craft that one of his goals in the offseason was to work on his mental health. She recommended journaling, and the center fielder took to it immediately.
“It helps me get my thoughts out and not hold things in,” he said. “Maybe people aren’t comfortable talking to other people, but when you can write it down on a piece of paper, it’s essentially talking to someone and getting it out. I think that when you do that it allows you to figure out who you are as a person. And it’s been working out pretty good for me.”
Moniak used it on an as-needed basis. He’d journal when he was feeling anything — whether it was good, bad, big or small. He began reading it back, and realized that he had been trying to do too much. He’d go to the plate trying to hit a home run, and he’d man center field trying to make a diving play. He wasn’t embracing the failure that the game brought. Instead, he was fighting it, and when he did inevitably fail, he was beating himself up.
This year, he hasn’t tried to do too much, and has subsequently done more than he ever has. When he showed up to camp three weeks ago, Moniak was a relative afterthought, the depth behind the center field depth, a prospect on the periphery. Now, he is a member of the 28-man roster, by sheer force of will.
And he says that his success is in large part due to journaling.
“I think it’s allowed me to figure out who I am as a person, and who I am as a baseball player,” he said. “If I need it, I’ll write stuff down. But if things are going good … I haven’t written in it in a week and a half. Who knows, maybe tomorrow I’m thinking something, and will say, maybe I should write that down. If I’m feeling a certain way, I can ask myself, why are you feeling that way? Little things like that.”
Moniak will depart for Philadelphia in a few days. He’ll bring his glove, his cleats, his bat, his uniform, and he’ll bring that little black journal, tucked deep inside his backpack, ready and willing to listen, whenever he needs an ear.