Red Land star: Signing with Rockies will be 'moment I've been waiting for my entire life'
Kids of all ages flocked to the third-base line of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park in State College.
The Red Land High School baseball team had just fallen to Bethel Park in the PIAA Class 5A Championship on June 17. But to the kids leaning over one another and fumbling to stick out baseballs, hats and sharpies, that didn't matter. They wanted autographs from the players they idolized.
After the last out was recorded and the Black Hawks dog-piled on the pitcher's mound, Red Land's Benny Montgomery stood with his teammates for the runner-up trophy presentation and made his rounds with the media. However, once the swarm of cameras, microphones and reporters vanished, Montgomery did what he'd done all season long: walked over to the third-base side and made sure everyone asking for an autograph or a picture didn't leave empty-handed.
"Man ... I don't know. That's tough," Montgomery said with a laugh when asked how many autographs he signed this season. "I don't even have a guess.
"To have all those kids there watching and looking on, it meant a lot."
In the coming weeks, Montgomery will be asked for a different type of signature. Not a signature on a baseball, a hat or T-shirt, but rather a signature on the dotted line of a Major League Baseball contract. It's a signature that comes with an estimated signing bonus upward of $5.176 million.
The Colorado Rockies selected Montgomery with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2021 MLB Draft Sunday night. He has until Aug. 1 to make his decision to turn pro or play collegiately.
"It's going to be crazy," Montgomery said of when he puts pen to paper. "It's a moment I've been waiting for my entire life. To sign that contract will be a blessing and I couldn't be any happier that it's with the Rockies."
Road to first round was never a guarantee: While Montgomery has some options to mull over, specifically whether he'll take the collegiate route through the University of Virginia or join the Rockies organization, his journey to becoming a first-round selection was never a given. Sure, the Patriots' center fielder features god-given athletic ability that can't be taught, but dedication and work ethic propelled him to an elite level of play.
It's something Red Land head coach Nate Ebbert noticed the first year he coached Montgomery.
"He's a freak athlete, but he works just as hard as anyone, and that's what makes him different," Ebbert said. "He never acted like 'that great ballplayer or athlete,' acting like he knew everything. He always was coachable and never had that attitude. He's an all-around very good athlete."
Montgomery played junior varsity for the Patriots his freshman year. However, the JV squad practiced with the varsity team when able. Ebbert said he recalls batting practice one afternoon where Montgomery hit a handful of balls off Red Land High School's wall in left field.
That's when Ebbert realized Montgomery was the "real deal."
"That was one of the times where it's like, if he ever figures this out full time or at least most of the time, he's going to be pretty freaking good," Ebbert said. "He knew what he had to work on."
Joining an elite group of Red Land players: The hard work paid off for Montgomery — not only in the aspect of being selected No. 8 overall — as he produced a trumpeted senior season where he earned Gatorade Pennsylvania Player of the Year and Prep Baseball Report Pennsylvania Player of the Year. He also batted .423 with seven home runs, 22 RBIs, seven doubles, four triples, 19 stolen bases and 45 runs scored.
Montgomery is the third player in Red Land program history to be selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. Bret Wagner (No. 19 overall to St. Louis in 1994) and Danny Sheaffer (No. 20 overall to Boston in 1981) were selected as college players.
Montgomery makes school history as the first opening-round selection straight out of high school and just the second ever prep-level pick. Red Land alumnus Greg Gross went to the Houston Astros in the fourth round in 1970. Gross enjoyed a 17-year playing and seven-year coaching career, winning the World Series as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980.
"It's not going to happen very often, if ever again," Ebbert said. "I've enjoyed having him the last four years and will hopefully see him march through the minors and get the chance to play in the major leagues in the next several years, so it's exciting. It's a proud moment, that's for sure."
He has all the tools: The Rockies have a lot to look forward to with Montgomery and his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame. He runs like a deer and has a cannon for an arm from the outfield. In Montgomery's eyes, while he knows he has the tools to be a successful MLB player, it all comes back to the drive to continue to get better.
"I knew if I didn't make it, it wouldn't be because a team didn't draft me or anything else like that, it would be because I didn't give it my 100% effort," Montgomery said. "I knew my work ethic would take me to the top and I think that's what really separates me from everyone else."
The touted center fielder improved his game in all facets by showcasing in 22 Perfect Game events/reports and competing with the New Balance Area Code New York Yankees Underclass Team. He also lifted, worked out and took hundreds of swings in the batting cages to morph into his athletic physique.
Praising his support group: According to his Perfect Game results, Montgomery boasts a 97 mph outfield throwing velocity, carries a 103 mph exit velocity off the bat and runs a 6.32-second 60-yard dash and 1.61-second 10-yard split. Montgomery said aside from his work on the field, the support group behind him shaped him into the athlete he is today.
"First and foremost, the community surrounding me, they've been awesome and given me all that I could ever ask for," Montgomery said. "I'd like to thank the coaches, the school and everybody who's been out there and rooting for me. I don't think I'd be here without them and they've been such a fundamental piece of my journey."
"They've been behind us for years," Ebbert said of the Patriot faithful. "It's going to be pretty cool for them to watch him make his way through and represent Red Land."
Living out his dream: But for the kid from Lewisberry, who enjoys relaxing, spending time with family and friends and watching "Criminal Minds," it's all about chasing and living out a childhood dream.
"[It sank in] a little bit," Montgomery said. "I'm exhausted from the whole draft process and the stress of it all, but it's just super cool. There's really no other way to put it."