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Players pay tribute to coach who has inoperable cancer

By MIKE FORMAN
Nov. 2, 2011 at 6:02 a.m.
Updated Nov. 3, 2011 at 6:03 a.m.

Pat Montgomery or, as he is more commonly referred to, Coach Pat, center, talks briefly with two players about their hopes for the upcoming baseball season. Players and their parents gathered Sunday at Montgomery's pitching center in Victoria to honor the coach.

Pat Montgomery

EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; masters degree from Washington State University.

ATHLETICS: Pitcher at MIT

BUSINESS: Created bacteria that went down in oil wells to break up the paraffin

COACHING: Roman Madrid, University of Central Florida; Jordan Pacheco, University of Texas-San Antonio; Denver Diefenbach, Texas A&M-Kingsville

Baseball and the Soul

"Baseball doesn't care what color you are, or what shape or size, or how old or crippled or infirm. The essence of the game is written in our hearts - there is a deep etiological significance to this, if we would only stop to think about it for a little while ..."

Excerpt from an essay by Jason Morgan, firstthings.com/onthesquare

Pat Montgomery notices a boy throwing baseballs in a nearby cage and stops in mid-sentence.

"It's like that little kid there," Montgomery says. "What he's doing is practicing all by himself. He's not doing anything except trying to get better. That's what you build the facility for."

One of Montgomery's favorite expressions is "baseball doesn't care."

The same cannot be said for Montgomery, who has spent the better part of the past seven years tutoring young prospects in Victoria who share his passion for the game.

"He was a pitcher, and he knows how absolutely hard this is," says companion Donna McCanlies. "This is not a sport for wimps. You're really going to have to work at it, but you're going to have to work at it right.''

McCanlies and the players' parents talk about Montgomery's hard-nosed approach.

"He's a tough ol' bird ...," McCanlies says. "He really wants to help them, and he says, 'I know I can't help them unless I tell them the truth.' "

The truth can be hard to take, and it has been especially so for those touched by Montgomery's creed of poise, patience and perseverance.

An air of sadness permeates a large crowd of family, friends and students gathered behind the Industrial Biotechnical Products building he owns on Ben Wilson Street. They gathered on a brilliant Sunday afternoon to honor the coach.

Montgomery, 62, learned last week he has inoperable cancerous brain tumors.

"Two weeks ago we were rocking and rolling," McCanlies says. "When something like this hits you, your life changes real quick, and ours has. It's just real hard to accept for someone that had such a passion for baseball and just life."

Montgomery is loathe to take credit for his students' success, but the proof surrounds him.

Victoria West graduate Jordan Pacheco came back from University of Texas-San Antonio, and St. Joseph graduate Denver Diefenbach returned from Texas A&M-Kingsville to pay tribute to their mentor.

Memorial graduate Roman Madrid couldn't make the trip from the University of Central Florida, but his father was there and McCanlies still has a copy of the college essay Madrid wrote paying tribute to Montgomery.

Pacheco agrees the coach is sure to point out what's wrong with a player.

"He's not going to lie," Pacheco says. "He'll tell you what you need to do and what you have to do, and, if you don't do it, it's probably not going to work. I've been going to him for so long. He got me where I am today, so it's really tough."

Montgomery came to baseball with an analytical approach. He graduated with a degree in microbiology from MIT, where he played baseball, and he earned a graduate degree from Washington State.

He created a bacteria that is sent down in wells to break up the paraffin that can clog or shut down the flow of oil.

He applies that same thinking to baseball.

"It's a little bit of a formula, but one size doesn't fit all," he says of his coaching style. "Whatever you do has to incorporate that fact that kids are unique. A guy that plays the piano at Carnegie Hall, he learns something. He's a little tougher. You're giving him the opportunity to be a little better."

Montgomery moved to Victoria from North Texas to be near relatives in Seadrift.

He began working with a select team, but the number of players seeking his help grew into the hundreds.

He has never coached for the money. He charges as little as $13 a session, and parents of the players he coaches insisted upon kicking in to help build the nine mounds and six cages, including four full-length cages behind his shop.

"The kids I'm getting are busted," he says. "They all came through busted. I'll take a high risk and help them. You're able to provide guidance to fix whatever is wrong and you go on from there."

Montgomery is not sure how long he will be able to continue coaching. Those who have witnessed the benefits of his counsel are wondering what's in store for the future.

"We're really not sure," McCanlies says. "This was kind of the last culmination of what he wanted for the kids - to have a place where they could come and practice and learn.

"We're just kind of in a holding pattern. It's basically what the parents want us to do. It's what's going to be best for the children."

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