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MLB: Preparing for the swap

Hart grads James Shields, Mike Montgomery weigh in on Sunday’s trade, which involved both of them

Posted: December 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 11, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Hart graduate James Shields is set to become a Kansas City Royal.

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Mike Montgomery said he went to bed early on Sunday night.

The 2008 Hart High graduate awoke to the sound of banging on his front door in Surprise, Ariz. from fellow Kansas City Royals prospect John Lamb.

“‘Wake up. You just got traded’,” Montgomery said he could hear Lamb saying. “I looked at the phone and saw all these missed calls and texts.”

Montgomery was one of four players, including the Royals’ top prospect power-hitting outfielder Wil Myers, sent to Tampa Bay in exchange for Rays pitcher and fellow Hart High graduate James Shields and pitcher Wade Davis on Sunday.

It’s a mega-rarity — two players who graduated from the same high school involved in the same deal — in this case a “blockbuster deal” because of the amount of players involved, Shields’ status as one of the American League’s top pitchers and Myers’ status as being one of baseball’s bright young prospects.

On top of that, Montgomery just two years ago was considered the top prospect in a Kansas City system stocked with young talent.

“I’m excited about the new opportunity,” Montgomery said. “It’s surreal. ... For it to be for James Shields is kind of cool, which is to understate it. We went to the same high school. How that worked out is ironic. I’m excited about Tampa and the opportunity.”

Montgomery said he has been working out in Surprise, the Royals’ Spring Training home, for the last week trying to get a jumpstart on the 2013 season.

The 23-year-old hard-throwing left-hander struggled for the second straight minor league season.

He started it in Triple-A Omaha, but finished in Double-A Northwest Arkansas.

Montgomery went 5-12 with a 6.07 ERA in 27 games between the two levels.

“Pitching’s not an easy thing to do so the fact that I have good stuff, I might throw hard in the mid-90s, whatever that means, doesn’t mean everyone’s going to be in the big leagues and be a good pitcher,” Montgomery said. “It’s a challenge to go out there and figure out and command the baseball and what you want to do with the baseball.

“I messed with my mechanics here and there thinking not about what I need to do more. I need to feel comfortable on the mound. That’s been my goal. (Last year) was disappointing and frustrating. If you’re a competitive person and you way underperform, it’s going to be frustrating. You have to have fun. It helps as far as performance.”

Montgomery said he’s happy with the fresh start.

It was evident in his voice.

Tampa Bay has been an organization where pitching has been the foundation and Shields was a big part of that.

The 2011 American League All-Star is the organization’s all-time winningest pitcher at 87-73.

The soon-to-be-32-year-old also owns career franchise records in games started (217), innings pitched (1,454 2/3), strikeouts (1,250), complete games (19) and shutouts (eight).

“Obviously it’s bitter sweet. I’ve been with the Rays for 12 years,” Shields told The Signal on Monday. “You form a family here, not only with the team and the players and the coaches, but with the community. It’s something I’ll miss a lot, but it’s a new chapter in my career. I’m hoping to do bigger and better things in Kansas City.”

Said Kansas City general manager Dayton Moore: “When you get a chance to upgrade and get a pitcher the caliber of James Shields and Wade Davis, we felt it is the right thing for our team to do today and going forward.”

Moore faced some criticism for the haul he gave up for Shields and Davis as three players in the group were rated within Kansas City’s top 11 prospects.

Yet Shields, a 2000 Hart grad, was excited about Kansas City’s future, comparing it to that of the Rays’ when they transitioned from a perennial loser to a perennial playoff contender beginning in 2008.

Shields is flying to Kansas City today to take his physical and to do a press conference with the Royals. He described Monday as a very crazy day.

Shields not only was a successful pitcher for the Rays, but was also active in the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg community.

“I wish I could stay here,” Shields said. “But Tampa Bay is a small-market team. I hope all the fans appreciate me for what I’ve done, and I thank them as well.”

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