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For the love of family

Photo submitted to Times Observer A mini-family gathering to show support for Mickey Moniak, of the Reading Phillies, whose extended family from the area came out in droves to a three-game series against the Erie SeaWolves this week at UPMC Park.

There’s nothing greater than family.

And you’re never too high or too low to be reminded of that.

I guess he was 12 or 13 years old when we met Mickey Moniak and his grandfather, Bill, at the Sugar Grove Rod & Gun Club.

Not sure if anyone ate that night as a stream of family and friends kept arriving, wanting to see him after a few or more years away from home.

Not Mickey, mind you. But, to see Mickey’s grandfather, Bill, who grew up in Youngsville the son of Tony and Ruth Moniak, God rest their souls.

Photo submitted to Times Observer Mickey signs a bat for family after looking at the name on the bat and calmly saying, “That’s my grandpa.”

Such wonderful people from a wonderful family and upbringing. Ruth was one of 18 children born to the late Genevieve Jordan.

Yes, the name Jordan is all over Sugar Grove and Warren County.

My daughter’s first name is for that very reason.

Anyway, back to family… Tony and Ruth, and Bill and his sister, Sharon Moniak Persing, were and are beloved.

No doubt, Bill’s minor league career with the Boston Red Sox was a lot less celebrated than Mickey’s is with the Philadelphia Phillies (currently the Class AA Reading Phillies). In Bill’s case, there was no internet in the late 1950s and early ’60s. No social media. No news can travel like it does today.

Facebook photo For extended family, seeing the name “Moniak” on the back of Mickey’s jersey brought chills.

That didn’t stop Bill’s proud papa, Tony, from telling story after story, often repeating them time and again.

A strapping left-handed hitter that used to play at Wilder Field, Bill had major league scouts visiting their house on Fifth St.

Bill was seven when Sharon was born and she learned her numbers by reading the uniform numbers on the backs of ballplayers. Probably in every sport. Bill was special — in baseball, football, basketball, track and field, everything.

Heck, Sharon remembers when Billy had the measles and couldn’t run in track, so he set the school record in the javelin instead.

No social media, of course, but Sharon was in the newspaper photo in the Youngsville Courier, no less, when Bill signed with the Sox.

Jon Sitler, Managing Editor

It’s no wonder everyone wanted to talk to him again that day he visited. He must have been the most popular kid in town growing up.

Fast forward 60 years and Bill is as proud of his grandson as he is of his own playing days. Probably more. He has close classmates — now that there is a way to communicate — messaging him all the time about Mickey.

The name Moniak on the back of the Reading jersey Mickey wore at UPMC Park in Erie this week for a three-game series had to give those close to Bill, well, chills.

Mickey is family, too.

Didn’t matter that he may not have ever met his great-great-aunt from Delaware before this week. He had his arm around her in the family picture Thursday, the third family picture taken after games in three days; the smallest family reunion of the three days, I’m told.

Didn’t matter to the distant relatives that Mickey was 1-for-14 over three days.

“My Poor Boy… Mom’s words,” Heather Moniak posted on Facebook from their hometown in California. “He didn’t do as well as he wanted to! For his extended family! To make you all proud. I know my boy, and he would not admit that, and he would never have let you all know.

“Glad he has a strong family heart. And rose above. As I am sure you all do! And at the end of the day, he was grateful for family. He is quite blessed,” she wrote. “As he knows and realizes that, from the get-go. Thanks, ‘Our Family,’ for all the love and support! You all may not know it, but his momma is the baby of 10, with cousins, aunts, uncles… and now a brew of second cousins in the making… clearing the U.S., but mostly back east, like you all. I tell him quite often. He will always be my little, now big, Mickey boy, and I am so grateful he brings a little bit of joy to people… He has such an amazing soul. Since he was just a baby. Forget about his talent. He loves and appreciates family and ‘The Journey,’ and its process.”

Reminds us of what is truly important.

It isn’t the $6.1-million-dollar contract for being the very first pick in the 2016 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, although that’s mind-boggling, to say the least. His grandfather signed for $25,000 in the summer of ’58. Also good money. Then.

It isn’t that this kid was playing left field for Team USA in a high school all-star game on the MLB Network just a couple years after visiting Warren County.

No, it wasn’t necessarily that, either.

Not over three days this week, it wasn’t what was most special. It’s that he’s family, even if it’s extended family.

Kellie Persing Blasco stayed two summers years and years ago with Mickey’s family out west, near San Diego, and found herself throwing whiffle balls to a three-year-old Mickey over and over and over and over. Even as a tot, the kid dreamed of being Trevor Hoffman pitching in the big leagues.

Shannon Persing Sitler is his distant cousin but was so close with her grandpa Tony. She said it brought a tear to her eye to see Mickey all grown up and the name Moniak across his back.

The family all said the same thing; they were so proud of Mickey.

He’s an athlete, so of course, he wants to do well.

But, to be honest, for family… it was that name on the back.

Moniak.

Chills.

And, remember, easy to forget with all the analysts and critics and fans… he’s a kid, just turned 21. He was 18 years old and attended his high school graduation a couple of days after he was drafted as a centerfielder straight out of La Costa Canyon High School in San Diego.

This kid stayed at home and watched the draft on TV, surrounded by his parents, family, and friends. No pomp & circumstance.

His family.

Such a high-character kid, so easy to root for. His roots are strong.

And, even if he doesn’t know all of those roots, for three nights he stayed after the game, smiling, and taking pictures. Giving hugs. The team bus had to wait for him.

He’s just 21.

Reminds me of a scene in the movie Trouble With the Curve — when the pro scout helps a player out of a slump by organizing a visit from his parents.

Because he was still, after all, a kid.

In this analytical Moneyball game we’ve built, we forget these are people, some kids.

Yes, he’s 21, and a 21-year-old who has been on the road for three years probably isn’t too giddy about chatting up dozens and dozens, literally, of family members and friends of the family — some he doesn’t even know — for three straight nights.

But he did it with class and character — with patience and love — despite going 1-for-14 because that’s the kind of person he is. That’s the kind of person his grandfather was, the kind of people his relatives are.

He has strong roots.

Which makes Mickey Moniak easy to root for.

To his family out west — you’ve taught him well.

If there’s anyone that can make it, it’s a Moniak.

Chills.

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