While one was a first round draft pick, receiving all the accolades, expectations and undue pressure as a high school draftee, the other was a minor league free agent signing, undrafted out of college from the University of Tampa.
But, both have been starters for the past two seasons, when healthy, and they each went down with injuries at nearly the same time early this season.
Monzon, capable of playing any infield spot, pulled a hamstring running the bases on May 2 and Garciaparra needed knee surgery after an exploratory procedure revealed more damage than originally anticipated.
The 22-year-old Garciaparra was hitting nearly .300 when he injured the knee on April 19 and is just happy to get back in the lineup, finally healthy.
"I couldn't wait to get back on the field," said Garciaparra. "It is frustrating just sitting and waiting."
The injury was another on a growing list for the middle infielder and came at the worst time – while he was hitting well and feeling as confident as ever.
"Man, I was feeling really good, too," said Graciaparra. "For the first time in awhile, I wasn't feeling overmatched up there at all."
The latest injury started as a nagging soreness to the knee in spring training and led to the surgery after two weeks of the regular season.
"I had a couple of tears in there that I did not know about that were there in spring training," said the Sixers starting second baseman. "It kept up with me and then kept getting worse. We cut out 25% of my meniscus. I rehabbed for five weeks and then played for one week (in extended spring training) and now I am back here."
The Sixers welcomed Garciaparra back with open arms and have reaped the benefits of having their leadoff man back in the lineup.
After going 0-for-4 in his return on May 27, Garciaparra went nine for his next 16 with a home run and two steals. The resurgent prospect is hitting .333 since his DL stint, raising his average back to the .300 mark for the year and pushing his impressive on-base percentage to .447 - something the Sixers missed from the top spot in the order.
Monzon, a returning starter for the Sixers from 2004, has completed red cross camp and is back in the lineup, giving the Inland Empire a full roster for the first time since week three.
"I am feeling pretty good," said Monzon. "Working pretty hard to get the endurance and strength back in my hamstring. I feel a little sore but I still feel good."
Monzon made his presence felt in his first game back, going 4-for-5 as the starting third baseman. The next two nights, Monzon started at second and went 2-for-4 and then at DH and had his third straight multi-hit game, going 3-for-5 with an RBI.
Monzon is hitting .319 on the season with four home runs and a solid .508 slugging percentage as the team's utility player.
Both Monzon and Garciaparra have returned, and returned with vigor. Adding the two to a lineup that already boasts the likes of Adam Jones, Wladimir Balentien and Bryan LaHair, makes the Inland offense a wrecking crew with speed, power and balance.
Monzon and Garciaparra are hitting a combined . 311 for the season, as of Sunday, June 5th, and since both returned from the DL, the Sixers offense has averaged seven runs per night and won five of seven games.
The Empire Strikes: The Sixers have several players that rank among the league leaders offensively, including outfielder Wladimir Balentien's 13 home runs, third highest in the California League. Shortstop Adam Jones is seventh with 17 doubles, and both Baltentien (7th at .589) and Jones (11th at .546) are among the league leaders in slugging. Jones and Matt Rogelstad rank 11th in hitting at .312.
Up in Arms: Left-hander Jason Mackintosh ranks 8th in the league in ERA at 3.84 and second in innings pitched at 72.2. Any shortcomings with the Inland pitching staff can be blamed on the lack of leads handed to the bullpen. The 66ers are last in the league with seven saves in 13 opportunities but have been handed leads after the seventh inning just 21 times all season - only 11 times with a lead of one, two or three runs. The 66ers do have three shutouts, tying them for the most in the league and have allowed just 42 home runs in 56 games, second best mark in the curcuit.
Coming Up... Next!: After attempting to salvage a game at Lake Elsinore today, the Sixty-sixers head to Stockton to take on the Oakland A's affiliate for three games, then to San Jose to take on the Giants before returning to Lake Elsinore to play the Storm for three. The Sixers return home on June 16 to play... yes Lake Elsinore in a four game set. The Sixers and Storm (SD) meet 14 times during the month of June, including a 1-2 home and away series that takes the Sixers into the California League all-star break.
Angel Almeida covers the Inland Empire 66ers for InsidethePark.com and can be reached via e-mail at Angel.I.Almeida@Gmail.com
Jason A Churchill is the Executive Editor at InsidethePark.com and can be reached via e-mail at JasonAChurchill@InsideThePark.com
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