Monty McLeod is one of the most respected DeSoto County coaches since the days of Coach Bowers. That is saying a lot for a man to be mentioned in the same sentence as Coach Bowers.
McLeod, 69 years young, is loved by all of those who have been under his tutelage. His knowledge of the game—along with the history of the players that have worn the DeSoto blue and white—is unmatched. When I told a coach this season that the DeSoto baseball team has never won a regional game, he didn’t believe it. We went to the library of DeSoto County baseball ... and asked McLeod. He backed up that little-known fact.
McLeod said, “This is my 49th year of coaching baseball. I don’t see the ball as well at night as I used to and my legs don’t get me around like they used to, but I want to coach one more year ... if they will let me.”
DeSoto head coach Mike Klossner said, “Monty can coach as long as he wants to. I’ll never encourage him to stop. He has so much to offer the kids with his vast knowledge of the game that it would be a shame to see all of that just go away. As long as I am coaching, Monty will be with me until he says he’s had enough.”
McLeod said that he is now coaching players of players.
“The former players tell me they have a grandson that they want me to coach when he gets to high school. I ask them what grade he’s in and they say second grade. I told him I won’t be around that long.”
While McLeod didn’t want to name the best players at each position that he has coached, in fear that he’d leave somebody out, he did say that there have been some really good ones that have come through the system. He was saying that they also have turned out to be very good people too.
“You know that ‘Bubba’ is the best word invented? Lots of times I can’t come up with a former player’s name right away, so I just call everybody ‘Bubba.’ But I don’t forget faces. I can tell you about how they played the game ... but sometimes it takes a minute to remember their names.”
A little know fact about McLeod is that he has a perfect 7-0 record as head varsity coach. “I’ve filled in for different head coaches when they were thrown out of a game and had to miss the next game. I want to keep that record perfect and not have to coach a varsity team again,” laughed McLeod.
Early years of coaching“I started in 1970 in Sarasota. It’s funny how it all started. My first wife heard me laughing as I was watching a few ladies teach little boys about 8 or 9 years old how to play baseball in the field behind our house and they were doing it all wrong. She said ‘why don’t you go out there and help them,’ so I did. The next day I was out by myself as the women sat in chairs and watched me.”
McLeod has coached all levels of kids from T-ball to high school players. He coached freshmen at Riverview and then went to Sarasota to coach JV baseball. His first year at DeSoto County he coached Dixie Youth baseball—and went undefeated two of his three years there.
He coached 13 years of high school softball until the JV baseball job opened up and he applied for and got it. “The kids are just so anxious to learn and it is a teaching level ... and that is what I like,” said McLeod.
McLeod not only knows baseball, but has coached football for 45 years. At the DeSoto County Middle School his teams went 109-9 in his 13 years there. They won seven conference championships and went undefeated in those seasons.
McLeod grew up in Sarasota and remembers Arcadia in the earlier years. “My dad and I would go fishing at Lake Okeechobee and we’d drive through this little bitty town called Arcadia. I remember telling my dad that I would never live in a town like this, they close everything up at 6 o’clock and in Sarasota everything starts at 11 at night.
“I’ve been here 35 years now and would never consider living anywhere else. The parents and kids have always been so respectful and friendly and I was surprised to be called ‘sir’ all of the time. I remember my first group of kids trying out for the baseball team. There were two of them that showed up in Levi’s and wore cowboy boots and cowboy hats. I ran them through a tough practice. They ran a lot and they worked hard even while wearing those cowboy boots to practice ... and not one of them complained. You didn’t get that work ethic in Sarasota.”
Tragedy strikes McLeodMcLeod was married for 17 years to his first wife Linda. “I’m not saying a divorce is good, but it gave me the chance to meet and marry the love of my life, Betty.”
In their early years together, Monty needed someone to keep the scorebook for a game. Even though she had never kept score for a game, Betty volunteered to do it.
“When we got home I was looking at the book after our 2-1 win. It showed that we had 19 hits, so I told her if we had that many hits we would have scored a whole lot more runs. It turned out that every flyball and ground ball she recorded as a hit. She said ‘Well, they hit the ball didn’t they? So it should be a hit.’ I told her that she did a nice job but I was going to find someone else to keep the book from now on.”
Betty died on July 24, 2016. They were married 33 years but were together for two years before they got married. “I guess she had to see if I could make the cut. She was the best thing that ever happened to me. I still miss her and think about her every day,” said McLeod.
Tragedy had struck earlier in their lives—McLeod’s oldest son Monty was killed by a drunken driver.
“He would have been 50 years old this year. He was a fireman and EMT. He had just worked 48 hours because he took an extra shift because one of his friends was getting married and needed someone to cover his shift. He was hit by a drunk driver and Monty had a big-tired truck. In those days they didn’t have to have seat belts and he was thrown out of the truck and it rolled over three times and landed on him and killed him. The other driver didn’t get a scratch on him.”
It was an unusual experience how the father learned of his son’s death. “We were playing softball in a tournament in Tampa and I was pitching for our team,” McLeod said. “We lost a game on Friday and had to battle through the losers’ bracket on Saturday. We played six games that day. We already had the hotel room paid for Friday and Saturday, so I took a shower and we had dinner.”
McLeod continued: “It was exactly 11:15 and Betty was sleeping and I was watching TV. I woke her up and said ‘we have to go home now.’ It was something about the way I said it and how I looked that made her say OK. So we left the hotel after a long day and drove home. The phone was ringing when I stepped in the door. It was one of my other sons, Timmy, on the phone. He said ‘Dad, Monty’s dead. He was killed by a drunk driver.’ I asked him what time was the accident and he said 11:15.”
McLeod finished, “I haven’t had a drink of alcohol since then.”
So will next season be McLeod’s last? There are some very talented freshmen getting a lot of experience this season. By the time they are juniors the team will have a lot of talent and experience on the field. However, that is two years away.
“That would be a good team to coach and be with but I don’t know if I’ll still be here,” said McLeod, a grin on his face.