Red Land star Benny Montgomery could be Phillies' first-round draft pick Sunday night

MATT BREEN
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Red Land's Benny Montgomery celebrates with Cooper Artley as Montgomery scores against Manheim Central in a PIAA Class 5-A baseball semifinal at PeoplesBank Park Monday, June 14, 2021. Red Land went on to win 8-0. Bill Kalina photo

Benny Montgomery had already been hooked on baseball when his mother gave birth 10 years ago to twin boys. He grew up in Central Pennsylvania but was born at Paoli Hospital and raised by Philadelphia sports fans.

Montgomery fell in love with the game just as the Phillies were enjoying their last great run. So one of his brothers had to be named Chase.

"Chase Utley was my favorite player growing up, and is my favorite player," Montgomery said. " Chase Utley was the guy. We had two little brothers. I begged them to name one of them Chase, and that's what happened."

It wasn't a hard sell, Montgomery said. His parents, Ben and Tonyia, liked the name and named their twins Chase and Bode. And a decade later, Montgomery could be joining his favorite player's former team.

Montgomery, a center-fielder from York County's Red Land High School, is expected to be a first-round pick in Sunday's MLB Draft, and various mock drafts have pegged him as the Phillies' selection at No. 13.

The 6-foot-4 Montgomery can hit for power, runs the bases with elite speed, and is a smooth defender.

"On a baseball standpoint, people know my strengths and weaknesses. Scouts know it, too," Montgomery said. "But what I don't think people know is my work ethic. I want it more than anyone. I've wanted to be a pro baseball player forever, and I'm going to give it all I can. There's plenty of talented guys in the minor leagues and the professional system so you have to set yourself apart."

Chasing his dream: That work ethic, Red Land coach Nate Ebbert said, was evident last summer when he would spot Montgomery running by himself up the school's large hill. The high school season was canceled by the pandemic, and Ebbert would take his son to the field to hit and throw. And each time, Montgomery was there chasing his dream.

"It was pretty impressive to see him working out on his own," Ebbert said. "He always knew what he wanted to do. He always knew that he wanted to make baseball his thing. He just worked really hard at it. I always tell people that he's a freak athlete, but I always back it up by saying that he's one of the hardest workers on the team, too. It's not like he just takes that freak athletic ability for granted.",

By the next summer, Montgomery's potential was obvious.

Possessing all the tools: Billy White, a former minor-league player and manager who lives in York County, told Ebbert that summer that he would never coach another player with the tools Montgomery had. Once an awkward teenager, Montgomery could now do anything on the diamond.

He was soon hitting 400-foot homers during batting practice and regularly sending balls onto the roof of the school building in right field. For most kids, just hitting the building was an accomplishment. Montgomery put them on the roof with ease.

In Red Land's league championship game this season, Montgomery and the team's right-fielder lost a fly ball in the lights. It dropped, Ebbert said, 25 feet away from him.

"When he picked it up, the guy was rounding second base, and he picked it up and threw it to third base pretty much flat footed," Ebbert said. "He hit the third baseman right in the chest and had the guy out probably by 15 feet. That was one of the most impressive things I've ever seen on a high school field."

Getting the scouts' attention: It was moments like that that drew scouts all season to York County. The team enjoyed the ride, Ebbert said, as they watched their teammate's dream come into focus.

Phillies scouting director Brian Barber sees plenty of high school talent and college pitching in the MLB draft

They teased Montgomery that the scouts stopped what they were doing whenever he was batting but dived back into their phones when anyone else was at the plate. Montgomery hit .417 this season with seven homers as Red Land, which included a group of players who played in the 2015 Little League World Series, reached the state championship game. He was named last month as the Gatorade Pa. baseball player of the year.

"I just got used to it," Montgomery said of the scouts who followed his every move. "I had to deal with it. There wasn't much I could do to block it out. They're there. You know it. Everyone knows it. I had to get used to it, and I realized they're there because you're doing something right. That's what I did, and I had a great season.",

He could soon find himself back in Pa.: If he's drafted by the Phillies, Montgomery would begin his career in Florida, but his climb would soon take him back to Pennsylvania, and the team's two final minor-league stops, Reading and Allentown, are within 100 miles of Red Land High.

"That would be awesome for us," Ebbert said. "Just the fact that he would be playing up through the minor leagues around here, which would be really cool. I'd love that. And I think he would, too. But I won't put words in his mouth. There would be a lot of pressure, but I think he would relish it."

Montgomery grew up going to games at Citizens Bank Park but hasn't been there in a few seasons. He's been busy each summer chasing his own dream. The next step of that dream could come Sunday night. And it might lead him back to South Philly.

"I would be just as happy to play for the Phillies as I would be for every other team," Montgomery said. "At the end of the day, it's Major League Baseball, and whatever team believes in me the most is where I want to be. If that's the Phillies, that's awesome. If it's anybody else, it's just as cool because pro baseball is pro baseball, and that's what I want to do. Any team that gives me that opportunity, I'll be more than blessed."