The first and only Carroll County High School baseball player selected in Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft, Mike Montgomery set seven school records at CCHS before taking the mound for East Tennessee State University.
With the benefit of a nasty slider and a fastball in the high 80s, the big right-hander set school records at Carroll for complete games, innings pitched, strikeouts in a season, strikeouts per game, best career record, best season record and most doubles. His senior season he earned Group AA All-State honors and a spot in the Virginia State All-Star Game.
At ETSU, Montgomery led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts each of his final three seasons, while also punting for the Buccaneers’ football team. As a senior in 1990, he led the conference in complete games with six and compiled a 7-4 record for a team that won just 10 games overall, earning him First-Team All-Southern Conference honors. That summer, he was drafted in the 37th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, and went on to play one season for the team’s Single A farm team in Batavia, N.Y.
Now living in South Carolina, Montgomery is in the process of starting his own sign business. This week he talks about college, embarrassing moments, life in the Minor Leagues, and legendary Carroll baseball coach Bill Worrell.
What year did you graduate from Carroll County? 1986
Family members? Wife – Stephanie; Daughter – Erika (sophomore in college); Son – Ty (senior in high school); Mom & Dad – Linda & Jay; Brother – Matt; Sisters – Jayne Hall; Kelly Worrell
Current Occupation: In the process of starting my own sign business
How in the heck did you get the nickname Gumby? My first year at Carroll, Jerry Smith decided that my last name was too long and that I needed a nickname. So he took the last part of my name, repeated it a few times and…viola. Of course, this was also during the time that Eddie Murphy was famous for the character on SNL.
What is your favorite memory in athletics? There are so many that I don’t know that I could pick just one (and some I don’t think you could print – just kidding). The field goal to put us ahead against Galax my junior football season; Beating Abingdon in the playoffs at home and striking out their top MLB draft pick; My beautiful punt that went into the stands at UT Chattanooga my junior football season at ETSU (don’t ask); Beating Virginia Tech my senior baseball season at ETSU; Being drafted by the Phillies. I would put those at the top, but just the blessing of being able to participate in athletics for as long as I did and the many life lessons I learned from it, gave me several fond memories.
How cool was it to be drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies, and how glorious was life on the road as a minor league baseball player? It was very exciting. I had put a lot of hard work into it and held on to the hope that it would happen, but also realized that it could have all ended with college. So, to get the call was just surreal.
As for the “glorious life” on the road part…I don’t know about that. Of course it’s been 22 years and I’m sure things have changed, but the long bus rides on second-rate charter buses and the third/fourth-rate motels we stayed in made it interesting. I also got to sleep in my Honda Civic a few nights and in a tent I bought at K-mart a couple nights. And the stadiums we played in were nothing like the “cathedrals” they play in today. But, even though I have made it sound so terrible…I was getting paid to play the game I loved. That was my job. How can you complain about that, huh?
How nasty was your slider? When it was on, it was pretty nice.
You hold school records for strikeouts at Carroll County, and also led East Tennessee State in strikeouts three seasons in a row. What was your favorite strikeout pitch, and what is the key to being a big strikeout pitcher? Favorite strikeout pitch was my slider, on most occasions. But to blow a fastball by someone and strike them out was always a rush.
In high school I was able to get by with just throwing hard so the key was to just throw strikes. As I moved on I learned that everyone at that level can hit a good fastball, so I really had to learn to be smarter on the mound and keep the hitters off balance. If you mix your pitches well and learn to locate your pitches, you’ll be successful.
Tell us about the time the idiot sportswriter (his words to describe himself were way worse) from The Carroll News left you and future Pirates all-star closer Mike Williams sitting on a picnic table in Batavia, N.Y. at 2 a.m.? I still have issues with that – Haha. That was actually pretty funny. But he did leave me with a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cassette, so that made it better.
Who was the best hitter you ever faced at any level? I do know that I faced Carlos Delgado at one point, but I don’t remember what he did against me. At the time, I didn’t pay much attention because I didn’t know he was going to have such a long career in the majors. There was also a kid from Wake Forest (don’t know his name) that hit the furthest ball I’ve ever seen (off me, of course). I think that ball is still rolling around Johnson City somewhere.
What was the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you while on the mound? Probably when I was in Batavia and I was put in the game to relieve. Let me throw this in before I continue. I was one who always hustled to and from the mound between innings. So I’m throwing pretty well that night, it’s a tight game and striking some guys out. After a third-out strikeout, I sprint to the dugout figuring I’m going to get some high fives, etc. But everyone just looked at me like I had just barged in on a private party. I looked back to the field to see everyone still at their positions (half laughing). Yup, you guessed it, it was only the second out.
Thankfully, me and a couple of other pitchers were always pulling little pranks and they thought I was trying to one-up them.
Your senior season, East Tennessee State won 10 games. You went 7-4 that year, including a win over eventual College World Series participant The Citadel. Did Coach Campbell ever flirt with the idea of letting you pitch every game? I would just assume that he did, but he would never say it out loud. If he did I’m sure it was because, for some reason, the whole team came to play when I was on the mound.
How do you feel about how specialized high school sports have become as opposed to when you played? I feel like it’s a good thing in a way, in that it seems to be producing some high level athletes in their specific sport. But on the other hand it seems to take away from a kid being a kid and enjoying other things that they may be interested in, during a time when they should be enjoying life. I also feel that it takes away from the “well-rounded” athletes that you used to hear about and see.
Although, with the high level that sports are at today, it almost seems to be a necessity if kids are truly set on continuing to play at the next level.
How much did you learn from legendary Coach Bill Worrell, and looking back on it, how great of a high school coach would you say he was? Wow. Can’t say enough about Coach Worrell. As for his “greatness” as a high school coach, I think his numbers can speak to that. But mostly the relationships and respect that he formed/earned with every player that he came in contact with, took his “greatness” to another level.
I have found that over my own years of coaching that I have taken a lot of his coaching techniques / styles and used them as well. To this day, when I’m in a baseball coaching conversation I find myself saying, “Well this is what we did when I was in high school.”
A great coach, but mostly a great man!