Hart High baseball coach Jim Ozella knew the question before I asked it. How could he not?
“Let me see, wait one second, the question revolves around Montgomery and Bauer,” the 17-year Indians coach said with a throaty chuckle.
Always kind, often stoic, Ozella bordered on giddy Sunday as he discussed former Hart teammates Mike Montgomery and Trevor Bauer facing off in the 2016 World Series — Montgomery a reliever for the Chicago Cubs, Bauer the starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in game two or game three.
The hurlers are the sixth and seventh Santa Clarita Valley products to ever play in the Fall Classic. Bob Walk (Philadelphia Phillies, 1980), Todd Zeile (New York Mets, 2000), Kevin Millar (Boston Red Sox, 2004), James Shields (Tampa Bay Rays, 2008; Kansas City Royals, 2014) and Danny Worth (Detroit Tigers, 2012) are the others.
Ozella said he’d received two calls from reporters as of Sunday afternoon. With all the focus, and rightly so, on 1908 (the Cubs’ last title) and 1948 (Cleveland’s last crown), Bauer’s and Montgomery’s time together in 2007 and 2008 may not get any national play.
Still, having those two on opposite sides of a historic series makes it, arguably, the greatest baseball happening in Santa Clarita Valley history.
“I think that’s fair to say,” said longtime West Ranch baseball coach Casey Burrill, who played in a CIF title game for Hart in 1989.
Burrill grew up owning baseball cards of Walk, the Hart alumnus who pitched, and won, game one of the 1980 World Series. Philadelphia prevailed against the Royals, four games to two, that year.
“The cards said, ‘Newhall, California,’ on the back,” Burrill said. “I thought that was pretty cool.”
Imagine, then, what this World Series could mean to the current generation of SCV youngsters.
The 2016 rendition has historical significance that matches 2004 when Millar, a former Hart player, helped the Red Sox break the “Curse of the Bambino” and an 86-year title drought.
By Nov. 2, an SCV product will have been part of ending either 108 or 68 years worth of misery.
Also, Montgomery and Bauer are in positions to make impacts equal to or greater than those of Walk or Shields, the losing pitcher for the Royals in games one and five of the ’14 series.
Bauer is scheduled to start either Wednesday, opposite 2015 CY Young winner Jake Arrieta, or Friday against Kyle Hendricks.
He could pitch two games in all if his sliced right pinkie finger cooperates (more on that later).
Montgomery is one of the Cubs’ main lefties out of the bullpen. A former starter, he has also shown considerable endurance, throwing four shutout innings against the Giants in the National League Division Series before allowing a walk-off double.
All that to say: Both SCV products can put their stamp on this series.
“That speaks highly for both those guys that they’ve made it to where they are today,” Ozella said. “Let’s not kid ourselves: They are playing at the pinnacle of professional baseball.”
Ozella, of course, knew them long before the pinnacle.
He remembers Bauer as uber-competitive and, technologically speaking, ahead of his time.
In high school, the cerebral righty would set up video cameras at different vantage points during bullpen sessions so he could study and optimize his delivery.
Ozella laughed Sunday when asked how he responded to news earlier this month that Bauer’s American League Championship Series start against the Toronto Blue Jays had been pushed back because he cut himself repairing a drone.
“Oh my goodness …,” Ozella said. “I’ve read about his infatuation with drones so I really wasn’t surprised. I was surprised he got hurt, not surprised he was doing it.”
At Hart in 2008, Bauer posted a 0.79 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 70 2/3 innings before leaving after the fall semester his senior year to enroll early at UCLA. There he earned the Golden Spikes Award (presented by USA Baseball to the nation’s top amateur player) and went third overall to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2011 MLB Draft.
Montgomery struck out 99 batters in 69 1/3 innings in 2008, a season in which the Indians lost 4-2 to Long Beach Wilson and future Minnesota Twin Aaron Hicks in a CIF-Southern Section Division 1 quarterfinal.
Drafted 36th overall by the Royals in 2008, Montgomery rode out the highs and lows of seven-plus minor league seasons before shining for the Seattle Mariners in the summer of 2015.
“The great thing about both these guys is that it has not come easy for them,” Ozella said. “Trevor was highly acclaimed in college. Then once he headed to pro ball, he had some struggles, really battled to make his mark.”
Of Montgomery’s resilience: “Here’s a guy who had to go to spring training this year just to make the Mariners,” Ozella said.
Seattle traded Montgomery to the Cubs in July. He’s posted a 2.82 ERA in 17 outings since then.
Bauer went 12-8 with a 4.26 ERA during the regular season. He has a 5.06 ERA in two postseason starts, one of which he left early because his hand was bleeding.
Ozella said Montgomery texted him Sunday to say he hoped to get an at bat against his former teammate. Can you imagine? The eyes of 41,000 at Wrigley Field, millions more watching from a couch, stool or chair, as pitchers from the same high school stand 60 feet, 6 inches apart.
A world stage belonging, for those few moments, to the Santa Clarita Valley only.