By Marissa Scott
Not many high school coaches can say they watched two of their former players square off in one of the most important and popular games in any sporting event. James Ozella, the head coach of the William S. Hart High School baseball team, watched his former players Trevor Bauer and Mike Montgomery, teammates at Hart, face each other in the 2016 MLB World Series.
“It speaks highly for those two guys, to get where they are,” said Ozella. “It also speaks highly for the program because I don’t know if anybody else has ever done that.”
Montgomery, a relief pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, and Bauer, a starting pitcher for the Cleveland Indians, both worked very hard throughout their baseball careers to get to be able to play in the World Series. They were both traded to a couple different teams before they settled in to their current team.
“Bauer was the third guy picked in the country, and he had all kinds of issues in Arizona. Nothing has really been easy for him,” said Ozella. “Mike’s been traded a few times, but fortunate for him now he was able to make it to the World Series.
“I think in the MLB, or in any professional sports, there’s no easy way to get there.”
Ozella noticed traits in the two guys that separated them from the rest of the team throughout their high school careers.
“One thing you notice is their growth and maturity, on a physical standpoint and on a mental standpoint,” said Ozella. “They grew up and they became mature men, and that translated out to them working harder.
“Mike started to fill out and he was a very good athlete because he played basketball and baseball in high school. They worked out really heavy, they were into weights and into getting to that next level.”
“His junior year he wasn’t very good. Sophomore year Mike was outstanding, junior year he wasn’t, and senior year he was outstanding, he was the first round draft choice,” said Ozella.
Neither Bauer nor Montgomery had many issues in high school physically or mentally, they just went through the “normal high school ups and downs.”
Ozella and the Hart baseball program had six alumni playing in the majors this season alone; Trevor Bauer, Mike Montgomery, Trevor Brown, Chris Valaika, Tyler Glasnow and James Shields.
Along with the two players who appeared in the Series, Trevor Brown also appeared in the playoffs. Brown faced Montgomery in an at bat in the NL Division Series, the first round of the playoffs, which was the San Francisco Giants facing the Chicago Cubs.
“In the 11th inning, the Giants pinch hit Brown, and he got to hit against Mike,” said Ozella. “He ended up getting Brown out, but it was kind of a funny deal that here they are facing off against each other.”
Although the six guys have busy schedules, most of them have tried to stay in touch with each other and have tried to help each other through tough times in their career, due to their common struggles in high school baseball.
Bauer, a 2008 Hart graduate, played varsity ball with Montgomery and Brown that year. In high school, Bauer was
picked on a lot by his teammates. When COC tried to get an interview with Bauer, he said he was not interested in talking about his high school baseball experience.
“Bauer did not pitch again for Hart – in part because of a hostile environment fostered by older players on the team who did not take to Bauer’s brash attitude or his unusual training techniques,” wrote Gabe Lacques, the baseball editor for USA Today. “An early proponent of unusual training methods such as the use of weighted baseballs, arm bands and extreme long toss – throwing up to 360 feet before a game – Bauer has long been viewed as an iconoclast.”
In his junior year, he decided to graduate early from high school to escape the unwelcoming environment, and pitch for UCLA.
“The pregame routine and the bands and the blade thing that he does, all that stuff combined – we all looked at each other like, ‘What is this guy doing?” Montgomery tells USA Today. “Then when he gets out there and is pitching we’re like, “Oh, maybe we should be doing that, too.”
Although Bauer does not keep in touch with any of his high school teammates or Ozella, most of the other guys keep in contact to help each other stay grounded and confident.
Along with helping each other through their career bumps, they come back to help coach the current players on Hart’s baseball team.
“Older guys kind of look out for the younger guys, the younger guys someday become older guys and they end up looking out for the next group of younger guys,” said Ozella. “It is a little bit of a tradition here.”
Ozella also believes that the pros get into the minds of the kids more than he does because they have experienced the majors and know what goes on behind the scenes. He uses the professional baseball players to help the current players understand how the game works and makes them understand the physical and mental aspects of the sport.
“They do wonders for myself and the team, staying relaxed, focused, and taking one pitch, ne out, one inning at a time.” said Daniel Cervantes, current senior and right fielder on Hart’s varsity baseball team. “I mean yeah they help us physically on defense and offense, but they really give us the edge mentally.”
Hart High School’s baseball program has had much more success in the past compared to the other high schools in the Santa Clarita Valley. Hart has sent 13 total players to the majors and Canyon High School follows after with only five players.
Ozella’s coaching and experience might have given the upper hand to Hart for the past 16 seasons. He has coached baseball for more than 30 years in many different areas and schools.
“I think I have improved as a coach over the years. We try to figure out more and more ways to try to help these guys out,” said Ozella. “It works because it’s a whole different kid, they don’t do things the way they used to 18 years ago.”
With all of Hart’s success in the past, they continue to work towards their goal to send more players to the big leagues.