Nine times this past season season, Southwestern University Pirates baseball's Daniel Montgomery Jr. traveled 360 feet in a single at-bat, hitting towering shots that traveled even further in leading the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference (SCAC) in home runs.
That's 3,240 feet in nine at-bats, accounting for 18 of his 45 RBIs. In a game of numbers, few in Division III responded when theirs was called quite like No. 10, Montgomery.
The junior from Boling, Texas was among the SCAC leaders in every major offensive category, finishing first in runs scored (48), triples (four), and home runs (nine); second in doubles (15), total bases (110), on base percentage (.485), and slugging percentage (.667); third in hits (60), and RBIs (45); and fourth in batting average (.364).
Montgomery was named Second Team All-American by D3baseball.com this year. His All-American selection was the first since Will Cates earned Honorable Mention in 2015 and the first proper team selection since Matt Odom in 2004. In addition to being an All-American, he was named to the D3Baseball.com first team All-Region, ABCA second team All-Region, and first team All-SCAC .
"He was a huge catalyst for our offense," Head Coach J.C. Bunch said. "He is a leader by example. He is going to give everything he has, no matter the score or situation. He plays the game the right way and no one can ever question his commitment to winning."
Montgomery helped lead the Pirates to a 24-19 record, clinching the program's first winning season since 2008 and the most wins since the 30-win 2005 season at the tail end of Southwestern University baseball's time as a national power.
In a year full of individual accolades across multiple sports, including two SCAC Player of the Year winners in basketball's Brandon Alexander and lacrosse's Zac Asbury, and football's Fred Hover rewriting the school's record books, Montgomery's stood out for the combination of individual and team success.
For these reasons, Daniel Montgomery Jr. was selected as the 2018-19 Dr. Tex Kassen Male Athlete of the Year Award.
"It's an honor to be recognized in a field where so many had strong years," Montgomery said. "It all came as a shock, I really wasn't expecting all this."
To say the season came out of left field would do a disservice to all the work Montgomery put in to knock pitches out of it, but heading into the year it certainly wasn't on anyone's radar. The year before, Montgomery had a down season statistically, hitting just .265 with a slugging percentage (.323) less than half of the .667 he produced this season.
Further clouding matters was a position change, moving Montgomery from shortstop to third base to make way for first year Chase Thinger.
"My first thoughts were 'third? I've never really played it before,'" Montgomery said. "I took it hard at first, it was pretty tough for me to accept."
Whatever misgivings Montgomery had, he didn't let it affect his outlook or the team.
"While he wasn't happy about it, he understood and didn't complain," Bunch said. "He worked his tail off in the fall and gave 100 percent effort all the time, which is what you want to see."
After struggling at the plate last season, Montgomery worked with assistant coach Scott Lacey to tweak his swing, creating separation between his hands and hips within his stride.
"With my old swing, everything went at once. Once I started my swing, there was no turning back. If I was early, I'd be early. If I was late, I couldn't catch up," Montgomery said. "By keeping my hands back, I learned to adjust my timing to the pitch."
Hitters have a fraction of a second of reaction time once the ball leaves a pitcher's hand. Within that time, each muscle in the body must fire with near perfect precision in accordance with the pitch. The slightest misfire shifts already favorable odds decidedly more so in the pitcher's favor.
Montgomery spent countless hours in the batting cages during the offseason, retraining a lifetime of muscle memory within a matter of months. The results would show themselves early in a multi-home run game against the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
"I was sitting on a fastball but recognized off-speed early," Montgomery said. "I was able to sit back, adjust, and knock it out. That's when I knew it clicked and was working."
Physical talent has never been an issue. On media day, Montgomery grabbed a bat and put it over his shoulders for his individual photo, flexing for the camera. But as Yogi Berra humorously once said, "baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical."
Montgomery enrolled at Southwestern University as a business major, citing strong academic programs and a beautiful campus as reasons for choosing to be a Pirate. By making the Dean's List and earning a Director of Athletics Academic Excellence Award this spring, Montgomery has certainly lived up to that end of the bargain. He has also used his time as a college baseball player to become a much better student of the game.
"I've been playing since I was a little kid but now that I'm older, I understand the game a little more," Montgomery said. "There are all these little games within the game and that's how I keep myself engaged for nine innings, trying to win all these little battles."
Montgomery changed his approach at the plate this season, becoming far more selective in each appearance. He studied opposing pitchers, picking up tendencies to exploit. A failed at-bat in one inning might cede an opportunity in the next, mentally logging each pitch in each situation to identify a pitcher's patterns.
"Daniel took a huge leap offensively," Bunch said. "He worked hard the entire fall, changing his approach, and ended up leading the conference in multiple categories."
He was the SCAC's ultimate utility threat, hitting for power and average, fielding his position, and even stepping in on the mound in tense situations. On the base paths, he did the little things, stretching singles and standup doubles into doubles and triples, getting into scoring position for runs that might not have otherwise crossed the plate.
Baseball has a way of fitting everything into neat statistical categories. There is a measurement for everything. Still, none of it can accurately describe how far Montgomery and the baseball program have come in such a short time and that's why he's your 2018-19 Tex Kassen Male Athlete of the Year.