PEORIA, Ariz. — Yes, I know: It’s a spring-training cliche, and a hoary one at that, to report that a player arrived at camp in the best shape of his life.
So be it.
Mariners first baseman Jesus Montero is already working out at the Peoria Sports Complex and he is — after shedding 45 pounds in the off-season — in the best shape of his life.
More than that: Montero is in the best shape of a re-focused life after two-plus years of seemingly non-stop turmoil.
“Thank God for all of the support from my family,” he said. “All of the support from everyone helped me to keep everything on track. My daughter and my wife, they sacrificed a lot of things.
“I turned the page. I turned everything (over) to the Mariners. I put all of my love, all of my sweat — every second, every minute, every hour — into spending time here with the organization.
“Just working to get better every single day.”
How Montero’s slimmed-down look translates to on-field performance figures to be one of the Mariners’ more fascinating storylines over the next six weeks.
“He is more confident in himself,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “He realizes he has accomplished something this off-season that he never did in his career. I do know he feel really good about himself.
“His wife is so proud of the work he did. He’s dedicated himself like we’ve never seen him do it before. Now he has to compete.”
For Montero, officially, that competition starts Wednesday when the Mariners begin full-squad workouts. (Pitchers and catchers begin official workouts Saturday at the club’s facility within the Peoria Sports Complex.)
Montero, though, has been here throughout the off-season in an effort reignite a once-promising career.
“It’s way better to be feeling like this, like I am right now,” he said. “Showing up here every day and working hard, that’s the best feeling ever. It’s been good to feel like that.”
Remember that Montero, still just 25, was once regarded as one of the game’s premier prospects. Baseball America pegged him at No. 4, No. 3 and No. 6 in a three-year span from 2010-12.
That was before a Jan. 12, 2012 trade brought him the Mariners from the New York Yankees with pitcher Hector Noesi for pitchers Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.
That was before Montero offered the tease of a solid rookie season — 15 homers, 62 RBIs and a .260 average in 135 games in 2012. That was before his defensive shortcomings prompted a shift from catcher to first base.
And that was before he embarked on a self-destructive path that included overeating, steroid use and a general lack of commitment that nearly torpedoed his career.
Montero incensed club officials a year ago by reporting 40 pounds above his targeted weight. (The cliche “best shape” story in reverse.) He was quickly dispatched to minor-league camp.
That final straw came last August when, enraged by taunts from a club scout, Montero attempted to charge into the stands in Boise, Idaho, while on a rehab assignment for Short-A Everett.
The scout, cross-checker Butch Baccala, was suspended and not retained when his contract expired. The Mariners also suspended Montero for the remainder of the season.
“There are no excuses for either party,” a fuming Zduriencik said at the time. “It’s something that is extremely disappointing and embarrassing for the organization and for those two individuals.”
Montero’s career stood at a cross-roads.
“I know that was bad,” he said, “but I learned from that. That was when I turned the page. Not a page. A book. I took a look at myself in the mirror and said, `What am I doing? I’m doing everything bad.’
“It was time to recognize (that) and get out of that circle. Step out, see myself and repair that mistake — all of the mistakes I’d been doing before.”
The Mariners ordered life counseling and a strict diet regimen. They also wanted Montero to spend the off-season at Arizona complex in order to monitor his progress under performance specialist James Clifford.
“All the work I’ve been doing with `Cliff’ helped me to recognize that I was doing bad,” Montero said. “It motivated me more to forget about it and to just think about positive things.
“That’s what I’ve been doing every single day — trying to just get better and be the person I wanted to be.”
So here we are.
“In the short term,” manager Lloyd McClendon said, “he’s accomplished the things I set out for him to do. When I talk about those expectations, they have nothing to do with the game of baseball. They have everything to do with the game of life.
“I think he’s made that progression. Now, he can start concentrating on being a better baseball player. We’ll see what happens this spring.”
Montero still faces long odds at winning a roster spot. Being in the best shape of his life is just one step.
“We’ll see what happens,” he agreed. “I haven’t played in a long time. I’ve been doing some things — ground balls every single day; hitting every single day. I feel a lot better. The power is still there.”
Montero is down to 230 pounds, which he last weighed at the end of the 2011 season when he made his major-league debut with the Yankees…when he was viewed as one of the game’s top prospects.
Asked if 230 is where he wants to be, Montero smiled.
“I’m here to do whatever the Mariners want me to do,” he said. “If they want me at 200 pounds, I’ll be at 200 pounds. But I feel real good right now, and I feel they’re really happy with me.”