The Major League Baseball winter meetings in Maryland came and went this week, and a player who’d already been traded three times in his career stayed put.
Hart High graduate Mike Montgomery was confident he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I knew I was going back next year as Cub — hopefully to win that (starting pitcher) spot,” he said by phone this week.
As a reliever for Chicago last season, Montgomery’s story reached a sports-movie-esque high in the World Series after seven seasons of languishing in the minors and trades between Kansas City and Tampa Bay, Tampa and Seattle, and Seattle and Chicago.
He recorded the final out in Game 7 last month, lifting the Cubs to their first title in 108 years.
Montgomery has viewed the replay numerous times, Kris Bryant scooping up the ground ball at third base and firing to Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
The epic play and the cheery conversations with manager Joe Maddon and President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein that followed will live on in Montgomery’s mind forever.
“This is why we traded for you,” he recalls Epstein saying.
But with spring training only several months away, Montgomery has begun shifting his focus to next season and the role he hopes to fill.
“(The Cubs) have made it pretty clear they are going to give me that opportunity (to win the fifth starter spot),” he said. “So right now I’m focusing on what I need to do to get back in that starter routine.”
Montgomery — who is renting a short-term apartment in Valencia and filling his time with relaxation and golf — will start throwing at Hart High before too long.
Working out with his high school coach, Jim Ozella, and current Indians players, Montgomery will focus on building stamina to better his chances of moving into Chicago’s star-studded starting rotation.
He’ll also be working on his swing.
“I’ll definitely be taking some swings now that I’m in the National League,” Montgomery said. “I’m actually excited about that. I know (Ozella) is out there everyday throwing batting practice to the guys so I’ll have to jump in.”
Entering the Word Series, Montgomery hoped to get an at bat against former Hart teammate Trevor Bauer, a Cleveland Indians starting pitcher.
It didn’t happen. But they were the final two pitchers to throw in Game 7.
Bauer rescued the Indians from a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th inning after another reliever had allowed two runs to give Chicago an 8-6 lead.
“He did a good job getting out of that,” Montgomery said of Bauer, who recorded a strike out and a fly out to end the inning. “Who would have thought that the last two guys would be two Santa Clarita guys?
“…I saw him a few times and said hello. He had a good year. I’m just glad we won it and not him.”
The win, though, was in doubt in the bottom of the 10th. The Indians scored a run off reliever Carl Edwards Jr., cutting the Cubs’ lead to one with a man on first and two outs.
Montgomery told Fox Sports reporter Ken Rosenthal recently that he felt gassed entering Game 7, saying to himself, “I hope I don’t get into this game.”
He had, after all, appeared in four World Series games at that point and, according to Rosenthal’s story, warmed up four times in the finale.
Still, with the series — and the hopes of a woebegone franchise — on the line, Cubs manager Joe Maddon called Montgomery’s number.
“My family was saying when I came in that last game that some of the other pitchers’ families came up to my parents and my girlfriend and said a little prayer,” Montgomery said. “They were all crying and going through a whirlwind of emotions.”
There was nothing to fear.
Montgomery promptly induced a game-ending ground out from Cleveland’s Michael Martinez before bouncing around with his euphoric teammates in the infield.
Montgomery then returned to a cell phone full of 200 to 300 text messages from friends and family wanting to congratulate him.
Despite all the pomp and circumstance, he says the experience hasn’t changed him.
“I’m still the same guy, same pitcher I’ve been,” he said.
People do recognize him more often, especially in Chicago.
Montgomery was out to eat with his girlfriend in the Windy City about a week after the series, and a note was scribbled on the steakhouse check that totaled “a couple hundred” dollars.
“Thanks for winning it. We have your steak this time,” the inscription read.
Despite the warm reception, the cold weather drove Montgomery back home.
“It started to get cold, so I was like, ‘OK, I got to go,’” he said.
He’ll return to the Cubs in the spring, a starting role to compete for.