With the Dodgers out, I still have a Cub in the fight
Your favorite team loses in the postseason, but you don’t want to stop watching baseball. So you pick a team from one of the leftovers — and that team is definitely not the one that beat your team. Yet I root for the Chicago Cubs in the World Series.
Not because of the obvious — although that history aspect is pretty cool. I root for the Cubs because of Michael Montgomery. Check that — Mike Montgomery.
I’ve always known him as Michael. We both graduated from the same high school — Hart High in Newhall, Calif. — although it was 10 years apart.
Newhall is one of a handful of small communities that make up the Santa Clarita Valley, a baseball hotbed about 30 miles north of Dodger Stadium. Former Dodger Todd Zeile, among others, is from there.
This year was a ridiculous one for the Santa Clarita Valley. Chicago’s Montgomery, Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer, San Francisco’s Trevor Brown, Minnesota’s Tommy Milone, Baltimore’s Zach Britton, Pittsburgh’s Tyler Glasnow, the Chicago White Sox’s James Shields, Houston’s Danny Worth and Colorado’s Pat Valaika all grew up in the Santa Clarita Valley and played in the big leagues this year. Nine big leaguers from an area of 200,000 people is pretty special and something we’re all proud of.
Shields, Montgomery, Bauer, Brown, Glasnow and Valaika all went to Hart High. I played baseball on the Hart High JV team with Shields’ brother, Jeremy. I covered the other five when I was the sports editor of the valley’s community newspaper The Signal. Montgomery’s dad Dave used to throw batting practice to Jeremy and me when we were on that JV team. And I’ve stayed in contact with the Montgomery family for a decade.
Bauer and Montgomery were the Nos. 1 and 2 starters for the 2008 Hart High baseball team, and Brown, who was Buster Posey’s backup on the Giants, was an infielder on that team.
I root for Montgomery because I saw him pitch as a sophomore, junior and senior in high school. He was a fantastic basketball player until he got kicked off the team for committing an intentional foul in a game. His coach thought he had an attitude problem at the time, then a couple of years ago brought him back to help coach his freshman basketball team during a baseball offseason.
I wrote probably five profile stories on him when he was a minor leaguer — once considered the top left-handed prospect in the game when he was with the Kansas City Royals organization. Even though he was a first-round pick in 2008 and a highly touted prospect for a number of years, he was at the doorstep of making the Major Leagues every year from 2011 to 2014, only to see the door shut in his face. He didn’t pitch well at times. He battled a sore arm at times. He lost command and speed on his fastball. One team, he shared with me, changed his routine and threw him out of whack. But man, this kid persevered.
On June 2, 2015, he made his Major League debut for the Seattle Mariners. Then on July 20 this season, he was traded to the Cubs. On August 26, he started against the Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. He went five innings and allowed three earned runs. In the top of the fifth with the Cubs trailing 3-1 in that game. Montgomery laid down a bunt with Miguel Montero on first. Justin Turner fielded it and threw to Corey Seager to force Montero out at second. Seager tried to complete the double play, but Montgomery was safe at first.
Montgomery’s high school coach Jim Ozella, a good friend of mine and a man who has produced dozens of pro and more than 100 college players, texted me right after. The text said: “See. We go a full 90.”
Montgomery ended up scoring, and the Cubs went on to win the game 6-4.
The next day, I went down to the field to see him before the game. He gave me a hug — which I thought was pretty cool. He said he heard that I left the newspaper, which I did more than a year ago. I told him, “Imagine how cool it would be if you won a World Series as a Chicago Cub.”
His reply: “We might have to go through you guys first.”
He was right. And seeing him win was my only solace in the Dodgers’ NLCS loss. The kid I watched pitch as a 15-year-old, whose dad pitched to me as a 15-year-old, could win the World Series.
In Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday night, Bauer started. Yeah, I covered Bauer when he was in high school and covered his journey from UCLA to first-round pick to the big leagues. I never had the relationship with him that I did with Montgomery and his family. So, I root for the Cubs. And I was pumped to see him shut down the Indians on Wednesday with two innings of scoreless relief in the Cubs’ 5-1 win.
I root for the kid to get a ring.
Just this year, though.