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The mission of former Wilson Parks and Recreation Department Director Kent Montgomery, in retired life, is to enhance the success of the Wilson-located North Carolina Baseball Museum, the Wilson Hot Stove banquet and the North Carolina Baseball Museum golf fund-raiser every May.
Montgomery, a star baseball player at North Carolina State University, finds himself involved in a year-round endeavor that anything but goes unnoticed.
In fact, during Tuesday night’s 43rd annual Hot Stove fete in the Recreation Park Community Center, Montgomery was recognized for his efforts by the Raleigh chapter of the Hot Stove League.
His untiring volunteer efforts were saluted with the presentation of the Joe and Jim Mills For The Love Of The Game award.
“I’m very humbled by it,” Montgomery commented. “To be recognized here in Wilson by the folks in Raleigh is special. I am excited to get it.”
While Montgomery was the recipient of the evening’s surprise award, the lineup of distinctions on the evening’s program was lengthy.
The recipient of the Eastern Athletic Association’s Eunice Sasser Memorial accolade, extended yearly to a top baseball umpire in the association, was Steve Berry of Rocky Mount.
Previously announced awards: Hunt High’s Bryson Worrell, Clint Faris Award as Wilson County’s top amateur baseball player in 2017; Barton College’s Andrew Webster, Trot Nixon “Gamer” Award for playing the game hard and with the passion of former Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians star Trot Nixon; Whiteville’s MacKenzie Gore with the Gaylord Perry Amateur Pitching Award as North Carolina’s top pitcher in 2017; Greenville Rose High’s Ron Vincent with the Clyde King Excellence in Coaching Award; and the Raleigh quartet of Mike Caldwell, Alex Cheek; Francis Combs and Freddie Combs with the Charles H. “Red” Barrett Special Achievement Award.
When the Joe and Jim Mills Award recipient was announced during Tuesday night’s banquet, Montgomery was chasing autographs on behalf of the museum. He graciously accepted his plaque from Raleigh Hot Stove official Tony Rigsbee and returned to scurrying around the facility.
LOVE OF BASEBALL
He has been committed to the year-round volunteer endeavor for years and years. Why?
“I have thought about it many a time,” Montgomery responded. “I just love baseball. I know I can talk to people and get things done.
“I have always been a workaholic. As long as I’m here, I want the baseball museum to be successful and grow.”
Regarding the museum, Montgomery inventories the contents and volunteers on Thursdays. He’s arguably the museum’s top ambassador.
Banquet season is a busy time. Montgomery spends hours and hours on the phone contacting celebrities, sending invitations and, if needed maps and travel directions.
He began the practice of preparing nametags or badges for the honored guests. He welcomes them, Montgomery researches and prepares background information on current and past major leaguers as well as former Negro League players.
“They enjoy being treated like the heroes they are,” Montgomery remarked.
In readying for the golf tournament, Montgomery responds with a sense of urgency well before the May date.
He’s busy organizing, confirming teams and securing commitments from tee sponsors, golfers and celebrities. He aids in assembling the teams.
“It’s year-around and it does take time,” Montgomery conceded. “I wind down a few days after the banquet; then, I start on the golf tournament. I just want to do anything I can to make it all better.”
Babe Allen, head of the Eastern Plains Athletic Association, credits Berry for fast development in the umpiring ranks.
In seven seasons with the EPAA, Berry has worked numerous playoff games, a pair of North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state championships, a pair of North Carolina High School Athletic Association regionals and two 2-A East finals. In 2017, Berry was selected to umpire in the 3-A Championship series played in the Carolina Mudcats’ Five County Stadium in Zebulon.
Worrell triggered the Warriors to another 3-A Big East Conference championship.
The right-hander excelled as a pitcher and not as a hitter, compiling an 8-0 record and scant 0.92 earned run average with 60 strikeouts and 27 walks in 53 1/3 innings. Worrell allowed just four extra-base hits in being proclaimed the Big East Pitcher of the Year.
He signed with East Carolina University. Head coach Cliff Godwin recently reported Worrell regained his stroke during fall practice and swatted three home runs.
Webster wrapped up his brilliant four-year Barton career by batting .401 with 21 home runs, 16 doubles, 58 runs batted in, 58 runs scored, a .511 on-base percentage and .824 slugging percentage.
During his Bulldogs career, Webster earned acclaim as consensus NCAA Division II All-America and Conference Carolinas Player of the Year.
He is just the fourth Barton baseball player to be chosen All-American.
Vincent still coaches the Rampants. In 48 seasons, Rose has seized four state championships and Vincent owns a state-record 907 wins. The last two years, his teams have reached the fourth round.
The Barrett Achievement accolade recognizes service to, support of and promotion of baseball at all levels.
Montgomery pointed out Caldwell, a decorated major league player, has attended every banquet the last 20 years and all 15 golf tournaments. Cheek has not only been present for each benefit golf outing but usually brings at least two teams. The Combs brothers offer strong museum and golf outing support and Francis Combs is still involved in baseball camps.
Caldwell is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
“They do it because they love baseball,” Montgomery declared. “They have always been professional and polite. They have never said: ‘No.’ “
All four are members of the 1968 Wolfpack baseball team that advanced to the College World Series.