LAS VEGAS — Danny Montgomery was hired as an area scout for the expansion Rockies back in November of 1991, nearly 18 months before the team played its first game. He has been with the franchise ever since, steadily rising in the Rockies hierarchy to a regional crosschecker, then national crosschecker, then a dual role as the assistant scouting director/national crosschecker, and to his current role as a special assistant to the general manager.
“He’s one of those special people,” says Vice President of Scouting Bill Schmidt. “He has that ‘it’ about him.”
“It” is what led to a career that has seen him earn the award as the 2018 Eastern Regional Scout of the Year, an award he will be presented by the Scout of the Year Foundation at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday night.
“It” is people skills. Montgomery, inducted into the Topps Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame earlier this year, understands the value of the scouting reports. He pays attention to analytics. But Montgomery has a skill that not everybody has mastered: He understands people. He doesn’t just watch players. He finds out what makes them tick.
“I was an area scout for 10 years,” he says. “I realize what that job is like. An area scout is the backbone of the system. He’s the guy who makes that initial contact. They have a chance to get to know a kid and his family. That’s what I still work to do.”
It’s how the Rockies wound up using a 14th-round draft choice back in 2004 to select Dexter Fowler, who had the academics to be offered a chance to play basketball at Harvard and the baseball ability to play at the University of Miami on a scholarship.
“Here you have a guy who should have been in the top 30 picks of the draft that year and he slid,” says Montgomery. “I remember sitting in the draft room and in the 12th round, I told Billy (Schmidt) I was going to call John and Trudy (Dexter’s parents). His name was the only one that was still on our major board.”
He made the call.
They were very, very upset about what was happening. I said, ‘After you get done being upset, do you mind if we draft your son?’ They said, ‘Okay, we’ll figure the other stuff out later.’ So it’s the 14th round and I said, ‘Billy, take him now. He wants to be a Rockie.’
“That summer, I had gotten to know the family well. I met his parents after a game. I ran into them in the parking lot. We just stood there talking about what was ahead and about Dex. We talked about him as a person and what he wanted. So when it came time to draft Dex and it was the 14th round, not the first where we all knew he should have gone, there was a trust on the family’s part that the Rockies cared about Dex.”
And then there was the Charlie Blackmon selection in the second round of the 2008 draft—as an outfielder.
Blackmon was a pitcher in high school, a 28th-round draft pick of the Marlins in 2004. Then, as a pitcher in junior college in 2005, he was a 20th-round draft pick of the Red Sox. He was still pitching when he transferred to Georgia Tech. The summer before his senior year at Georgia Tech, however, he played the outfield in a college summer league, and then convinced Coach Danny Hall to let him be an outfielder that senior season.
“Danny Hall is a close friend of mine and Billy’s (Schmidt),” says Montgomery. “So I fly in to see a kid at Georgia Tech on a Sunday and Blackmon is playing. I talked to Coach Hall and he tells me to keep an eye on the center fielder, this Blackmon kid, who used to be a pitcher but is an outfielder now. So I watch the game Sunday and then, instead of flying back to Charlotte that night, I decided to stay over. “Georgia Tech had a make-up game and I wanted to see the kid. I had to. I was shocked when I saw him and needed to see more. He could run. I liked the way he used his hands to hit. I was like, ‘Wow.’ I didn’t tell anybody I was going to be there, and I sat by myself at the top of the stadium, just to stay away from everybody. I called Billy after that and told him, ‘I’m going to try and overpower you and get this kid in the draft. You’ve got to see this guy.’”
To the surprise of most everybody in the scouting world, when the draft rolled around that June, with the 72nd pick overall, the Rockies took “Blackmon, Charles,” an outfielder from Georgia Tech.
Now, it’s not like Montgomery’s childhood ambition was to be a scout. He wanted to be a ballplayer, and in his youth, he was a pretty good one. He was a star in high school, and went to North Carolina-Charlotte on a baseball scholarship. After his junior year, he was drafted by the Dodgers and signed a pro contract. Three years and three knee surgeries later, however, Montgomery had to admit that his boyhood dream of making it to the Majors wouldn’t come true. He, however, wanted to stay in the game and took a job with the Dodgers as a Minor League coach.
Two years later, the expansion Rockies, looking to put together a scouting staff to prepare for the expansion draft as well as the franchise’s first amateur draft in June of 1992, came calling.
“It wasn’t easy to leave for the unknown,” he said. “I just felt it was time to step out on faith and see where my career was going to go. So that’s what I did.”
It turned out to be well-placed faith.