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Blanco steps into leadership role on D-backs

Blanco steps into leadership role on D-backs

Blanco steps into leadership role on D-backs play video for Blanco steps into leadership role on D-backs
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A big reason the D-backs signed Henry Blanco as a free agent this offseason was the leadership skills the veteran backup catcher possesses.

It didn't take long for manager Kirk Gibson to see them in action.

On the second day of camp, Gibson was on the exercise bike in the weight room early in the morning, long before the players had to begin reporting.

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"First player today in there is Henry Blanco, with Rossmel Perez right behind him; here comes Miguel Montero, Juan Gutierrez, Esmerling Vasquez," Gibson said. "Henry Blanco is obviously well respected by all those guys. You didn't see those guys in there in the past.

"I see the way the guys look at [him]. You go watch him when he's in the bullpen, watch how the guys watch him catch. He's going to have a great influence. That's the type of thing we're looking for, for sure."

It's that kind of following that has earned him a nickname already from Gibson.

"I told him today, you're 'The King,'" Gibson said.

It is not a title that Blanco is actively seeking.

"I didn't come here to be a leader," Blanco said. "I came here to help this team whatever way I can to win games, and if I can help in the clubhouse, I will do it."

That being said, Blanco knows that one of his main responsibilities is helping serve as a mentor to Montero, a role that he has played often during a 13-year career that has spanned nine teams. It is not something he shies away from either.

"He's a very talented guy, a very talented player," Blanco said of Montero. "He can do it all. Hopefully his knee is 100 percent and he can take this thing to another level. He's going to be one of the big guys in the lineup, so hopefully he has a good year and helps the pitching staff as much as he can.

"I'm going to help him as much as I can. Right now he's working hard preparing his body to play, and that's a big thing for him. Hopefully it shows up on the field, all the hard work he's putting in now."

Montero had a breakout season in 2009, when he got his first opportunity to play on an everyday basis after an injury to Chris Snyder. Last season, knee surgery in April knocked him out for an extended period of time and his numbers dipped.

While Montero has taken big steps forward defensively the last couple of seasons, the organization thinks having Blanco around will help him even more.

"I talk a lot with him," Montero said. "We talk about catching, pitching stuff. He's caught Cy Young pitchers, so I like to listen to him and learn from him as much as I can. All aspects of the game I'm looking forward to learning from him."

Padres catcher Nick Hundley learned plenty from Blanco during their time together in San Diego in 2009.

"With Henry, it was how smooth he was," Hundley said. "You really didn't notice him catching. That's something I wanted to do last year."

One of general manager Kevin Towers' offseason goals was to add more of a veteran presence to the bench. Young players, who are used to playing every day, sometimes struggle with the adjustment to pinch-hitting and playing once or twice a week.

Blanco, though, is used to coming off the bench, having been an everyday player just twice in his career. It has led to him knowing how to prepare so he is ready when needed.

"That's my job, and I think everybody should understand their job," Blanco said. "I've been doing this for a lot of years now and I just do my routine. I come in early, work hard and do what I have to do, catch bullpens, stay in touch with the pitchers, the little things. All the little things help. There may be little things that I can do to help Miggy and the pitching staff, and I'm here to do it. We're just here to win games, so I don't care about personal numbers. I just want to go to the [World Series] and win a ring."

One of the messages Blanco would like to get across to the younger players in the clubhouse is that getting to the big leagues is one thing, staying in the big leagues is another, often harder, thing to accomplish.

"To have success in the big leagues they have to work," Blanco said. "You find some guys who want to take advantage of the situation and think they have a spot on the roster and can relax. I think it should never be like that. You should always work for your spot."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Inside the D-backs, and follow him on Twitter @dbackswriter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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