Miguel Montero: 'When I came to the U.S, I had a different mentality than the rest'

David Banks/Getty Images

As part of the season-long Béisbol Experience rollout, we will be releasing an interview every day from June 15 to 25. Find all of them at espn.com/beisbolexperience.

This interview was conducted in Spanish and translated. Read it in Spanish here.

Sixteen years after the Arizona Diamondbacks signed him as a prospect, Cubs catcher Miguel Montero remembers his early money struggles, his relationship with his father and what set him apart from other Latin American prospects.

What was the hardest thing for you when you first came from Venezuela to the United States?

The first time I traveled to the United States was when I signed. My salary was very small, and I couldn't afford a lot of things. I couldn't just eat anywhere; I couldn't afford it. We didn't have transportation to hit the gym early, so we had to get a cab. However, we couldn't always pay for it, so we would have to walk or go on a bike. Renting an apartment was also hard. You come here, and you have no credit history. We were six people living in one apartment because that's what we could afford. And we had to help each other in order to eat, so you could have money for other things.

Give us an example of something you remember from those hard times.

[Starting out] I didn't have any money. None. But it was my own fault. I spent on a pair of shoes. $60. I thought there was food in the fridge, but when we got there, we didn't have any. So I spent three days hungry and I remember I called my mom. She sent me money because I told her we were all hungry. She started crying. She said, "Come back [to Venezuela], you don't need to go through this." My dad grabbed the phone from her and said, "Let him become a man. You want to be a ballplayer, then stay there. Put on your pants and go play ball, because this is what you wanted to do." I never called them again.

Those are things you appreciate, in the end. We were able to sort things out because we had a pitcher among us, Juan Carlos Ovalles, who signed with a nice bonus, and he had his tax refunds coming, so he invited me to eat. We went to McDonald's, had my little burger. I still appreciate it.

Was there a teammate who helped you most with learning English?

A teammate who is now a coach with Arizona, Luís Urueta. He went to a bilingual school in Colombia and speaks English perfectly. We were roommates in our road trips. I always asked him, "How do you say this, how do you say that?" [In] six months, I was already translating to Latinos whenever we had meetings. I was the official translator. I still am.

When I came to the United States, I had a different mentality than the rest of players. For many players, their No. 1 goal is to play in the major leagues. My first goal was learning English. If you speak two languages, other doors may open. If you don't get to the major leagues, new doors may open to you as a scout, as a coach, or open the door to another country.

Was there a moment you wanted to return to Venezuela?

I was never that close, but the thought crossed my mind often.

How have you raised your kids, between both cultures?

There's a balance. You have to look for the best of each one. I like our Latino culture because we're very family-oriented people. That's what I want my kids to be like. I want them to be caring. I don't want them to leave my house when they turn 18.

What do you think of the so-called MLB code?

You always have to respect the game whenever you play. You have to respect your opponents. Respect them so they will respect you. But passion must not be confused with disrespect.

What was your toughest moment of your career so far?

When my dad passed away [in 2009]. Imagine: I called my dad every morning when I got in the car to go to the stadium. When he died, I was in spring training. I went to Venezuela for a week. I came back to continue spring training, and when I pulled up the car and my eyes fogged up and I had to pull over on the side of the road because I couldn't see. I grabbed the phone to call him and said to myself, "Who am I going to call? He's not there."