DENVER -- Rockies assistant scouting director Danny Montgomery woke up early Saturday morning in a West Coast hotel room, excited about what baseball will bring. He has spent half of his 47 years in professional baseball. It's the kind of life he hopes to pass on to others.Each day he understands how much Jackie Robinson made possible for him, and he's trying to pass the legacy to others. After a playing career as a shortstop with the Dodgers -- the team Robinson played for when he broke the color barrier in 1947 -- that was cut short in the Minors because of chronic knee problems, Montgomery became involved with coaching and scouting, first with the Dodgers. Then he joined the expansion Rockies 20 years ago and has been with them ever since. Even beyond evaluating and signing players for the Rockies, Montgomery reaches to the grass-roots level to keep the game alive in the African-American community. He is a part of a major tournament in the Atlanta area -- which arguably is the strongest area in the country for developing baseball among African-Americans. Montgomery also takes time to emphasize to players and their families that the game can lead to an education and off-the-field opportunities.
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It is Montgomery's way of keeping alive a legacy and history that Robinson forged."I hope everyone understands the magnitude of what Jackie did," Montgomery said. "It wasn't just for African-Americans. Jackie changed the world. I hope players of today and the players of the past keep that legacy alive. We need to read up on history of how things were, and make a difference in the lives of kids coming after us." Montgomery played the game and was fascinated by its history while growing up in Asheville, N.C., and playing collegiate ball at UNC Charlotte. He realized a dream when the Dodgers drafted him in the 14th round in 1986. He was in the farm system for three years, but missed one of those years because of injuries. After four knee operations, his playing career was over. But his time with the organization was valuable to Montgomery's education. "I couldn't have asked for a better team to be drafted by," Montgomery said. "The guys I came up with were taught the significance of being in Dodger blue by all the guys who lived it. We were exposed to so much of the history. Guys like Johnny Roseboro, Tommy Davis, Sandy Koufax -- they had so many stories. Jackie Robinson was a big part of that history, and they taught it to us." After his career ended, Montgomery spent a year coaching a Dodgers Gulf Coast League team under manager Jerry Royster. Eric Young, who would become an All-Star second baseman with the Rockies and the father of current Colorado player Eric Young Jr., was one of the players. From there, Montgomery moved into scouting. As a scout, Montgomery has seen African-American athletes gravitate away from baseball for a whole list of reasons that MLB is trying to combat through such programs as R.B.I. (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities).
Atlanta has been quite successful. Montgomery said Houston, Dallas and Northern California have managed to develop and retain African American players. Tampa, Fla., is making a rebound after a drop-off that seemed to coincide with the rise in the number of football players the area produced, and Orlando and Ft. Lauderdale also are making inroads in the Sunshine State.Programs like the one Montgomery is part of in Atlanta help the game grow. Mentoring Valuable Prospects (MVP) conducts a major summer showcase tournament, and has ongoing connections with the strong African-American baseball community. The program not only arranges games and tournaments, but provides advice for players and parents seeking college opportunities. Milton Sanders, Melvin Traynum, Greg Goodwin, Greg Davis, Kenneth Glenn and Paris Burd are among the grassroots founders. Montgomery, Pirates Major League scout Steve Williams and Rangers national cross-checker Clarence Johns are key advisors. They help with counseling players on setting realistic expectations that go beyond just hoping the pro scouts notice them. "There are so many different opportunities that come out of this game," Williams said. "That's what MVP is all about. You can get an education, and there are so many different things you can do in this industry. "I get it. People don't see a lot of African-American scouts. I show up and people at the stadium think I'm an ex-player or a parent of a player. So I can talk to these kids and their parents and say, 'I look like you and this is what you can do.'" It's a lesson from Robinson that will forever be relevant.
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.