By Rick White
The seeds for Cody Monk’s success were planted in the growing fields of West Texas, cultivated by his junior high and high school teachers, and sprouted when he followed his heart.
A 1992 Farwell High graduate, Monk returned to the area this weekend to promote his first book, Alfonso Soriano: The Dominican Dream Come True.
Monk figured he’d join his father in the seed business after college, a typical career path for a young man who learned his values and work ethic in the cantaloupe and cucumber patches on his dad’s land.
Somewhere along the line he had a change of heart.
Monk said he was sitting in an accounting class at Southern Methodist University when he had a revelation.
“I remember thinking ‘Do I really want to be doing debits and credits in 10 years?,’” Monk said. “So I closed my book, walked out of class, and changed my major to journalism.”
He caught his first break when he landed a job answering phones at The Dallas Morning News — a job he thought at the time was “the greatest in the world” — and his writing career mushroomed from there.
He landed the book deal last year when a publishing company interested in branching out into the lucrative Spanish-speaking market in the United States learned Monk was fluent in Spanish.
The book focuses on Soriano’s recording-breaking 2002 season with the New York Yankees and his journey from the Dominican Republic to Japan to New York City.
“It turned from a biographical look at Soriano into a look at the social and cultural impact of baseball in the Dominican Republic and Latin America in general,” said Monk, who has been a regular contributor to The Dallas Morning News for seven years and free-lancer for several other major publications.
Monk visited the Dominican Republic as part of the research for his book and discovered baseball is a way of life in the impoverished island nation.
He said youngsters play baseball day and night on sandlots, hoping to be discovered by a scout, hoping to earn a tryout at one of the prestigious baseball academies run by Major League teams.
“You can’t believe how enormous the game is there,” said Monk, who said he also interviewed Latin-American stars Vladimir Guerrero and Pedro Martinez for his book.
“It’s still hard to believe sometimes,” said Monk, who learned Spanish from his father’s farmhands as a youngster while picking vegetables. “I get to spend time in the Caribbean — looking at the beautiful beaches and enjoying the cool breezes — and get to watch and talk about baseball.”
He said his father’s farmhand, Epifano Almanza, would always talk to him in Spanish, including teaching him “how to be smooth with the ladies.”
His Spanish continued to improve under the tutelage of his high school teacher, Brenda Riddle, and while attending the University of Guadalajara in Mexico for a year.
His passion for baseball was born at an early age, he said, and fostered by his Little League coach and one of his father’s employees, who loved to talk baseball.
“I remember when I was 5 or 6 years old I would score the (Atlanta) Braves’ games,” Monk said. “Back then we only got four channels — ABC, CBS, NBC and TBS. There are a lot of Braves fans my age.”
Monk, who is married and lives in Dallas, said West Texas will always be his home.
“I’m very appreciative of where I grew up,” he said. “Not only did it shape the person I am but the writer I am.”