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June 22, 2016

How a Hall of Famer and a strong family bond formed Mickey Moniak's skill set

Mickey Moniak had just been outfitted with a Phillies jersey for the first time when someone made the observation that the Southern California-reared teenager already appeared to have a baseball IQ befitting of a big leaguer.

“I think it’s something I developed,” said the 18-year-old Moniak, the No.1 overall pick in the 2016 draft who was introduced by the Phillies on Tuesday, a day after he signed his first professional contract.

“I like to study the game,” he continued, “I like to look at what guys do on the field and what they do to succeed. And I think the term baseball IQ is instincts and developing instincts for what's going on in the game. It’s huge, playing baseball knowing what to do in certain situations. It’s something you definitely can’t teach.”

Moniak was blessed with those baseball instincts that don’t necessarily show up on a 20-80 scale scouting report, that are often thrown into the “makeup” category. It’s undoubtedly a vital category, since it’s often the separator between a player with natural talent and a player who is able to maximize on that natural talent, despite the failures that the game of baseball with present to anyone of any talent level.

Moniak was obviously able to show enough to the Phillies to get that intangible category checked off on his pre-draft scouting report.

“He’s everything our scouts reported that he is,” amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz said of getting to know the team’s top pick more in the two weeks since the draft. “As you can see for yourselves, he’s very intelligent. He’s a tremendous baseball player. But more than anything, he’s a very highly charactered person, human being. And for us that’s key.”

More often than not, the folks in baseball’s scouting community can get a good read on a teenage kid by getting to know their family: where they came from, how they behave, etc.

Moniak wasn’t just gifted with talent and instincts, but with a baseball lineage that connects to a man many consider the greatest hitter who ever lived. And it was those “Ted Talks” with his grandfather that crafted Moniak’s top physical skill set, his pure hitting ability.

Bill Moniak, now 76, met Ted Williams when he was two months older than his grandson, Mickey, is today back in the summer of 1958.

“(I) walked into Fenway as the game was ending one evening,” the elder Moniak recalled Tuesday, “and Williams walked up, put his arm around me and said, ‘Where are you from, kid?’”

“A small town in (Western) Pennsylvania,” Moniak told the Splendid Splinter, “where the weather is so bad they don’t have high school baseball.”

Bill Moniak, signed out go high school by the Boston Red Sox, kept in touch with Williams. Four years later, after Williams had retired and while Moniak was working his way up through the Sox minor league system (he never reached the big leagues), the two had another memorable conversation during spring training.

It’s one Mickey Moniak has heard more than a couple of times.

“He’s told me that story 20 times and I’ve heard it 20 times over again,” the Phillies draft pick said with a smile.

And no one ever tires of a Ted Williams story.

“I was hitting over .400 having a great spring,” Bill Moniak said, beginning that story. “(But) Williams wanted me to hit his way. I dropped the bat more, I felt relaxed. I said, 'Ted, I’m having trouble with (your way).' He said, ‘I tell you what, try it my way.’ And how are you going to tell the best hitter in baseball that he doesn’t know what he’s doing?

“So I did try it his way and I struck out four times. I said I’m going back to my old way of hitting. And you couldn’t have scripted it better. The next game I hit the first one out (for a home run), went 4-for-4. I guess I’ll see Williams after the game.

“He puts his arm around me, and in very colorful language told me, ‘If anyone ever tells (you) how to blankety-blank hit a blankety-blank ball again, to put it where the blankety-blank is.’

"That was Ted Williams.”

And the Hall of Famer has helped shape three generations of Moniak hitters.

“There’s been a lot of approach and baseball talk with my grandpa over the last 18 years,” said Moniak, who just turned 18 last month. “And it’s been awesome, hearing his stories and his advice. it’s definitely helped me in my game. One of the mains things I’ve taken from his Ted Williams talks is that, it’s about approach.

“(With an) 0-0 (count), you own the pitcher, basically. He makes a good pitch outside corner? Let him have it. (At) 0-1, makes another good pitch? So what? (With) 0-2, you get on the plate, choke up a little bit and you have to think the pitcher is not going to beat you. You’re going to put the ball in play and make the defense work, do everything you can to get on base and help your team win.”

Bill Moniak smiled as he looked across the Citizens Bank Press conference room, where his grandson was beginning his own professional career. The lessons from one of the game’s greatest players, the stories from one generation to the next, have also helped build the player Mickey Moniak is now and hopes to be when he completes his big league dream at some point in the next half dozen years.

“I think the biggest advantage of it is just getting advice,” Mickey Moniak said. “You’re not going to know everything by yourself. You’re going to have to learn it and you’re going to have to mature with advice coming from other people and people giving you tips. I definitely wouldn’t be the baseball player I am today without my grandpa or my parents. I definitely think the main thing is growing up getting the advice they give.”

And it should be noted that, even though his grandfather played in the minor leagues and his father, Matt, played at San Diego State, baseball was never forced on Mickey Moniak. He just never wanted to do anything else.

“Matt liked surfing and the beach; Mickey took it more seriously,” Bill Moniak said with a chuckle.

“My dad tried to get me playing basketball just to stop me from playing baseball so much -- just to try something else,” Mickey Moniak said, “but I told him no. My cousins played baseball, I just grew up around it. We’d always be playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, hanging out. It was always baseball, surrounded by it. I fell in love with the game and never wanted to do anything else.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21