Montgomery brothers to be honored for lifetime of baseball
In 30-plus years of coaching baseball, Den and Dave Montgomery have shared everything from the wins, which include three District 31 championships with Kiski Valley legion, to the losses, some tougher than others, and the opportunity to be mentors for players from all across the Alle-Kiski Valley.
So, it's fitting that they'll share the opportunity to become hall of famers.
The Montgomerys, who are twins, are part of the 2018 PA American Legion Hall of Fame class ,and they'll be inducted in July at a ceremony in Boyertown.
“The fact that it's only six people that are going in, and it covers all sports not just baseball is pretty neat,” Den said. “There's a sports writer that's been doing it for 60 years going in. There's a professional athlete that's going in like Neil Walker did last year, but there are others from different sports and it's the 100th anniversary, so that's pretty cool.”
Said Dave: “We had a lot of great people backing us. It is a great honor, and it's going to be a pretty cool day there in Boyertown.”
Dave and Den, who are 54, credited their parents, Dennis and Kay, with helping them reach their goals as coaches.
“Den and I are a lot more boisterous then they are. Our mom and dad don't say much,” Dave said. “They were always very supportive of us, and we're happy they will be out there in Boyertown with us.”
The Montgomerys have been involved with American Legion baseball since 1995, when they took over Freeport from former Pirates draft pick Craig Heakins. They merged Freeport with Kiski to form Kiski Valley in 2007.
Bill Siegel, a long-time friend of Dave and Den, spearheaded the process by asking former Freeport High School principal Bob Schleiden, a member of the PA American Legion Board of Directors, about nominating them.
“I wanted them to get the recognition they deserve,” Siegel said.
Siegel wrote a letter of recommendation along with current assistant coach Pat Huth and Pa. State Representative Jeff Pyle.
The letters provide detail of the quiet generosity the Montgomerys have shown over the years. For example, Huth wrote in his letter that Den and Dave have kept an open account at B and J Sporting Goods since the 1980s for players who couldn't afford to buy their own equipment.
The Montgomerys were appreciative of the support.
“We've been friends with Pat since we drafted him in 1983 in little league, but Pat's his own man,” Dennis said. “He's worked for NASA, Penn State, Oklahoma State and Navy (as a professor). He's written a lot of letters, and he doesn't write them just to write them. Pat's letter was pretty cool because it covered 30 years in a page and a half.
“I got an email from Representative Powell that said he'd love to write a letter in support of us, and I was taken back. He said that he gets asked to write letters every day, and I write them when I feel like it's a worthy cause. We invited him out to Boyertown for the ceremony, and he said he's going to try to clear his schedule and come out and meet us. I can't thank him enough for sending a letter for us.”
Said Dave: “Pat and Bill have been around us a long time, and they wrote those things because they believed them. Whether we made it or not, we were still going to be up there at Freeport Community Park throwing grass seed. We've thrown a lot of grass seed up there. The fact that we made the hall of fame isn't going to change us. We'll never throw another pitch or swing another bat. I'd never think of it, but we like coaching and helping the kids.”
Siegel has been friends with the Montgomerys for 25 years and said there are countless stories of how the brothers have impacted kids' lives in a positive manner. He got to experience that firsthand with his son ,Ryan.
When Ryan was eight, he was cut from a little league all-star team and afterwards went to hit in the batting cages with the Montgomerys. After about an hour of batting practice, they gave him tickets to the Pirates game that evening against the Cardinals. Dave and Dennis wanted Ryan to go down and see Jim Edmonds. They wanted him to watch Edmonds' approach at the plate because he was a left-handed hitter like Ryan.
“They didn't know us that well, and they handed us box seat tickets,” Bill said. “It was such a positive thing for Ryan at that point in his life. He went from having a bad day to having it brightened. Things like that go a long way for kids.”
Ryan went on to play Legion for the Montgomerys on one of their most successful teams and spent a year at Coastal Carolina before transferring to Mercyhurst, where he played in the Division II World Series. Receiving those tickets still stands out for him.
“That was when I realized how much they love the game,” Ryan said. “A lot of times you'll see youth coaches that are a father of a player, but these guys just love baseball from the youth leagues all the way up to the Major Leagues. They're can't be a better pair of coaches out there in legion, and I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”
The Montgomerys are pretty straightforward. They don't sugarcoat anything, and they admitted sometimes their style can rub people the wrong way. But there are many that appreciate the way they coach — like JP Samay.
Samay played for the Montgomerys from 2003-08 and has taken the philosophy to his first head coaching gig at Keystone. When Samay arrived at Keystone last year, he came to a program that was short on baseball supplies, and he wanted to keep the mentality he got from the Montgomerys that players shouldn't have to buy their own equipment.
With Keystone being a small school district, the funds weren't there to supply equipment, but he knew where to turn when he needed some help.
“I kind of felt like I was between a rock and a hard place because we didn't have enough equipment, and we wanted to supply things like game balls and bats,” Samay said. “I ended up contacting Den and Dave and asked them if they would be willing to donate any extra equipment. Honestly, I was looking for a bucket of balls and some used helmets because the helmets we had were basically disintegrating. They told me to stop down, and the next thing I know they are giving me buckets of balls, four or five helmets, bats, catcher's mitts, and I was like, ‘This is too much.'
“They told me that they have extra stuff, and they don't need it since American Legion went to a wooden bat league. Rather than let the equipment sit there, they donated it to me. It was a really neat gesture, and I'm grateful for it. It was a neat experience to take what the Montgomerys gave me and apply that to my own program.”
The Montgomerys don't plan on giving up coaching any time soon. They still keep in touch with many of their former players and look forward to meeting new ones.
“Sometimes I'll just get the urge, especially around the holidays, and I'll just go through the list of players on my phone and say ‘Hey, happy Thanksgiving,' or something like that,” Den said. “They'll text me back and say, ‘Hey coach, good to hear from you,' or something along those lines. We like keeping up with the kids.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.