Little Montaous Walton,
come blow your horn.
Another reporter is on the phone,
Offering you escape from the scorn.
Who is this boy
who plays till he weeps?
Living his dream,
but still fast asleep.
Will you wake him?
Oh no, not I,
for if I do,
he will laugh and then cry.
Montaous Walton, now 29 years old, says his story should be titled "The Dream Chaser" and in a sense, that would be right, but only almost. There are other titles one could choose, names given Montaous by others, like "The Fraud," or "The Con Artist"—but those wouldn’t be quite right, either.
Many of us have known boys like Montaous, or even have been a boy like Montaous, a boy with a dream to play baseball. On some days we may even still be that boy, because even when our dreams fall short of glory, every once in a while our minds go back, because dreams don’t always die when careers do. Sometimes, no matter how grown up we have become, that little boy inside takes over. We let ourselves believe in the fantasy, where we get everything that we wanted as children.
We don’t do this because we don’t like our lives now—we’re not even unhappy. We do this because, before we cared about sex or romance, before we had to get real jobs, before the world got complicated, we just loved sports, and someone told us, "Follow your dreams." Playing in the big leagues was something that promised to solve all problems, and satisfy every desire. The ultimate dream.
But at a certain point we stop chasing fairy tales. We’re responsible grown-ups. (Or we at least know to pretend to be.) We know that we’re supposed to know that if we did try again, it wouldn’t go well. Still, we secretly imagine that knowing what we know now, maybe we would have made it. Thus, the dream doesn’t forsake us—we forsake it. In this way, we keep the fantasy alive. Unreachable. Untarnished.
All of us, that is, except for Montaous Walton.
In pursuit of the dream he would not be stopped, could not be stopped—has not been stopped.
All Montaous Walton wanted, all he’s ever wanted, is to play baseball. It mattered not what fell in his path. In pursuit of the dream he would not be stopped, could not be stopped—has not been stopped. He sees himself as an example, and wants people to learn from his inspirational story. And people are learning from him, just not quite what Montaous thinks they are.
Chasing His Dream
Baseball was his refuge and his salvation, keeping him safe and protecting him from evil.
Montaous was born and raised in one of the worst parts of the city of Milwaukee, in a world where dreams can mean the difference between survival and safety, and despair. One of his friends was nearly beaten to death and another friend shot and killed. His father was in prison. While others pursued drugs and joined gangs, Montaous went after his dream. Baseball was his refuge and his salvation, keeping him safe and protecting him from evil. He was bullied for being "the kid who plays baseball," because everyone else in his neighborhood played basketball. This deterred him not, for his heart was pure. He played every chance he had, sometimes spending whole afternoons alone throwing a ball into a chain-link fence. He cultivated an encyclopedic knowledge of the game and he talked about baseball to whoever would listen.
Montaous has an older sister, LaShonda, and a pair of younger twin half-brothers named Chris and Christopher. (That is not a typo.) His mother, Diane, pushed her other three children to get real jobs and prepare for real life, but Montaous always got special treatment. When LaShonda and the Chrises complained, Diane scolded them and told Montaous not to worry about them or any other "haters." "Don’t worry, baby," she said, "you’re gonna make the majors." Lo, the boy with a dream persevered, and behold, his legend began to grow. When he played baseball at Milwaukee’s Madison University High School, most of his family and neighbors couldn’t make it to his games, so after each one Montaous told them of his home runs, his heroic diving catches, and the scouts that watched his every move. Neighbors crowded ’round to hear the tales.
He even landed a special lady. Jessica Turner was her name. One day during her junior year, when Montaous was still a sophomore, she came to the neighborhood from the suburbs, many miles away, to visit her grandmother. They bonded over their love of sport, for she was a star in basketball and track. She loved talking with him, and she most loved how much he did laugh. He asked her to be his and she said that she was.
Montaous was as good a boyfriend as he knew how to be. He had no money, so instead of dates to the movies and romantic dinners, he and Jessica wrote each other long letters, and went for long walks. Jessica wished she could see him play, but every time he had a baseball game, she had a track meet. But that was OK; he told her when he made it to the majors, he’d buy them a big house, a veritable castle that she could design whatever way she wanted. They would live there together, happily ever after.
Montaous was transformed. With his lady at this side and his tales of diamond glory, his fairy tale was coming true. He was no longer "the kid who plays baseball," the butt of jokes and teasing, but "The Kid Who Plays Baseball," a juvenile novel come to life.
One day during his senior year, Montaous told Jessica some wonderful news; he had been named one of Baseball America’s Top 100 prospects, one of the greatest young players in the land. When he showed Jessica a printout of the story though, she noticed something quite strange: His name was in a different font and some words appeared changed. When she questioned him, he laughed and fussed and asked why she didn’t believe him. She wanted to hear him laugh again, so she put it from her mind.
Later that year, after she went away to college in Chicago he went to a tryout at nearby Olive Harvey Community College. For the first time, Jessica came to watch him play and she was very excited. She didn’t know much about baseball, but she had a good time just watching the workout from the bleachers. Then she noticed that although everyone else was wearing baseball pants and cleats, Montaous played in jeans and tennis shoes. A varsity Olive Harvey player was sitting nearby also watching the tryout, so Jessica asked him how Montaous was doing.
The player’s face lit up. "Oh, Montaous is doing great!" he said. "He’s definitely going to make the team."
Jessica sighed in relief, and then laughed and asked, "Why do you think he wore those jeans and tennis shoes?"
He didn’t look like “The Kid Who Played Baseball,” but a kid who could barely play baseball at all.
The player made a face and, embarrassed, said, "Oh, not that Montaous—he’s horrible."
Jessica watched her Montaous and compared him to the other players on the field. He didn’t look like "The Kid Who Played Baseball," but a kid who could barely play baseball at all.
Jessica thought back and suddenly felt very, very foolish. She remembered other lies, like when he told her he was working and he wasn’t, or when he said he made grades he really didn’t. She remembered how neighborhood kids teased him about baseball, but now she realized they made fun of him because he thought he was great at something for which he quite certainly was not. Now she knew why all his baseball games took place while she had a track meet. Later, someone told her about the time he played catch in the gym with one of the coaches at Madison, Jay Wojcinski, and Montaous couldn’t even catch the ball. When he missed a throw and it crashed off the wall and hit him in the back, the coach thought it wasn’t safe to play catch with Montaous and stopped.
Today, Wojcinski says that Madison was one of the worst teams in the Milwaukee City Conference, one of the area’s worst leagues. Montaous was "one of the worst players on the team," he says, "no question about it." Wojcinski says he’s more comfortable playing catch with his 7-year-old daughter than he was with Montaous.
When he lied, he would laugh, almost every single time. And Montaous laughed a lot.
After the tryout, Jessica asked Montaous why he’d done so poorly. "Oh," he said, "I just had a bad day." And then he laughed.
The Laugh. Laugh-laugh-laugh. She had fallen in love with that laugh. At first. Now she realized it wasn’t really a happy laugh, or a laugh of joy: It was a reflection of his worst trait. When he lied, he would laugh, almost every single time. And Montaous laughed a lot.
She no longer loved the laugh, and their romance soon came to an end. For his sake, she wished he would stop lying and stop playing baseball. But Montaous was "The Kid Who Played Baseball," following his dream, and in his story, following a dream means never letting go, not ever, ever, ever.
Adam Ryan Morris Photos
If At First You Don’t Succeed …
For the next few years, Montaous bounced around a few colleges in the Milwaukee area. He played baseball for none of them, but still talked about his baseball career to anyone who would listen. Then he met a new friend.
In 2004, he told his sociology teacher at Milwaukee Area Technical College about his baseball career and his dream to play in the major leagues. But if that didn’t work out, he said, he’d like to be a sportswriter. His teacher then introduced him to her husband, Mike Christopulos, an 82-year-old retired sportswriter for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
They became friends and over the next few years Christopulos soaked up every word as Montaous told him all about his exploits. He told him about playing with the semipro Oshkosh Giants, then about his time at the American Baseball Institute in Seattle, then his stay at the Play Ball Baseball Academy in Florida, then when he signed with the Minnesota Twins, and then when he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays AND THEN when he signed with a Puerto Rican team called Criollos De Caguas.
Montaous seemed like just the nicest young man Christopulos had ever met. Christopulos loaned him money, bragged about him to the female employees at Panera, where they always ate, and called him his biracial son. "Very humble, very quiet, very down to earth, fun to talk to," Christopulos says about Montaous today. "And he was always laughing."
Now, as you may have already deduced, Montaous’ stories weren’t quite true, not exactly. In 2007, he really did play for the Oshkosh Giants, a semipro team. Well, he was more like the club manager. He was on the team, and the coach and the rest of the guys really liked him, but the coach worried that Montaous would hurt himself and rarely let him play. He seemed scared of the ball, both in the batter’s box and in the field, and he quit halfway through the season, saying he’d hurt his leg.
Nix would politely congratulate him, hang up, and think, What the hell is this kid doing?
That fall, Montaous tried out for the team at the Division III University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, but when the players warmed up, Montaous could barely make or catch a throw. He never even finished the 60-yard dash, saying that his hamstring was tight, and they sent him home after half an hour. This, however, proved no impediment to "The Kid Who Played Baseball." The next day Montaous went to coach John Vodenlich’s office and asked what he could do better to make the team. Vodenlich kindly suggested to Montaous that wasn’t going to happen. Montaous thanked him and left peacefully, but that wasn’t the last Vodenlich would hear from him.
The next summer, when he was 24, Montaous did go to the American Baseball Institute in Seattle, an in-residence baseball school where aspiring prospects hone their skills and have private workouts in front of scouts. He arrived in a black Lincoln Town Car he hired to drive him an hour from the airport and stepped out wearing a white collared shirt, jeans and brown penny loafers. He brought no cleats, pants, bats or hat, saying he thought all that was included. Montaous told ABI director Neiman Nix that he was a 20-year-old free agent who’d just signed with the Twins. He didn’t have the money to pay for his stay, but said that once he worked out his contract with the Twins he could pay Nix then. Nix thought, Come on, man, but Montaous seemed harmless and earnest, so Nix let him stay.
Montaous worked out in ragged gym shorts, a white T-shirt—and the penny loafers. Nix loaned him a 33-inch maple bat, but Walton could barely swing it. In left field, he struggled to make even the most routine catches and plays. Nix wasn’t sure he could’ve made a middle school team. Montaous left after three days, once again saying he’d hurt his leg.
Still, he refused to give up. "He wouldn’t accept that he couldn’t compete," says Nix. Over the next several years, Nix and Vodenlich each took many, many phone calls from Montaous. At first, he would ask, When could I come back? and When could I try out again? Then it was, Hey I signed with the Twins. After that, Now I’m with the Blue Jays. Nix would politely congratulate him, hang up, and think, What the hell is this kid doing?
... Try, Try Again.
If there is one thing we should probably give Montaous credit for, it was that he has always tried to make his dream come true. And that is why, in the fall of 2007, shortly after his failed UWW tryout, he opened his laptop, got on the Internet, and set about rewriting his life, to make his story fit his dream.
He opened his laptop, got on the Internet, and set about rewriting his life, to make his story fit his dream.
He logged on to message boards. He posted in blog comment sections. He emailed blog authors. He visited every baseball website he could think of. He created so many fake usernames it was hard to keep track of them all.
And so Montaous "the Prospect" was born. First he was an outfielder and, later, a second baseman. He was 5’10—no, 6’0 tall. He hit right-handed—no, he was learning to switch-hit, which, he wrote, he struggled with, but being athletic, he knew he would get it down in no time. Above all he was fast, BLAZING FAST—he ran the 60-yard-dash in 6.3 seconds. He was All-Conference at Division I Eastern Michigan University. Then he transferred back to Milwaukee, homesick, to play at UWW.
Most of his posts contained no punctuation and capitalization, nor did they follow the basic rules of grammar. But that didn’t matter to young Montaous or to most who read his stories. Other message board users parroted his posts and he made several bloggers’ "top prospect" lists. A Rivals.com writer profiled him in late 2007, celebrating his triumphant return to Division I baseball, heralding his move to Division III UWW, rejoicing in his—and then John Vodenlich of UWW heard about it and called Montaous and yelled at him. Then followed Montaous’ tearful apology, Vodenlich’s forgiveness, and Montaous’ seemingly sincere gratitude.
Montaous quickly went to work writing new and revised Prospect Walton histories: He went to those schools, but never played. You know, the challenges of higher education …
Over the years the Prospect’s story evolved accordingly. In 2007, he didn’t just play for Oshkosh—he was a star. In 2008, he didn’t just attend ABI, he was scouted by the Twins. The next summer, at the Play Ball Baseball Academy, he played for "his favorite coach ever," Fred Ferreira, the Baltimore Orioles scout. He won several awards and even had the trophies to prove it. The Twins signed him and projected him to make the majors in two years.
By 2009, according to the Internet, Montaous Walton was exactly who he’d always wanted to be: A Prospect.
In real life, PBBA and Ferreira never even heard of Walton. Neither did the Twins. Still, his tale spread fruitfully across the World Wide Web. By 2009, according to the Internet, Montaous Walton was exactly who he’d always wanted to be: A Prospect. On the cusp of stardom. He showed the posts to the people who made fun of him in the neighborhood, and to the coaches who had cut him. And, not the least of all, to his fair lady, Jessica.
Look. I’ve done it. Like I always said.
But alas, after years of letters, emails, Facebook messages and texts, she knew his writing like she knew his laugh.
Local Boy Makes Good
That did not stop Montaous. After all, winners never quit and quitters never win. It says that in all the books. He next took his tale to the media.
He got big in Milwaukee. Local companies even talked to him about endorsements.
His story was quite compelling. Local boy reared in poverty becomes pro baseball player. When reporters received his emails and phone calls, they looked on Google, found the information Montaous had planted, and fell for it all. And Montaous handled any awkward questions like the finest hitter sitting on a curveball: When reporters asked Montaous to have coaches and scouts contact them, Montaous created coaches’ and scouts’ email accounts and emailed reporters himself. When a newspaper like the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quickly debunked his claims with a quick phone call to the Twins and ignored him, Montaous simply moved on. He appeared in other papers, on radio shows and on TV. He was charismatic, charming, and looked and talked like an athlete. He got big in Milwaukee. Local companies even talked to him about endorsements.
And yes, he sent all of that to Jessica. You have to believe these. Real media confirm facts. That’s what I learned in journalism class. I’ll still take you back.
I forgive you.
Adam Ryan Morris Photos
In Which Our Hero’s Plans Are Thwarted
So, after building a reputation, and a following, what’s next? What, apart from talent, must every real baseball player have?
That’s right! Just as a knight has his steed, a king his crown, a real baseball player has an agent.
So Montaous sent his links and stories to several different agents and asked for cash, airfare, and other perks. Most of them debunked him with one call to the Twins. (He was lucky none of them tried to have him prosecuted—attempted fraud, in the eyes of the law, is the same as successful fraud, which can carry felony charges and leave one facing years in jail and thousands in fines.) One agent, however—who asked to remain anonymous—took things a step further. After he spoke with the Twins, he called the members of the Milwaukee media who Montaous had conned.
They were shocked. Most quickly altered or deleted their stories from the web. Milwaukee Courier editor Lynda Jones offered Montaous the chance to publicly explain, but he never did. After she ran her retraction, he called. "Why?" he wailed. "Why did you have to focus on the negativity?"
With all the whitewashing he needed to do online, there was no time for righting old wrongs. So it was back to the laptop. He revised his tale, just as he had before, and with the help of witless message board users, bloggers and radio hosts, he buried all that pesky negativity. Prospect Montaous, still underrated, still BLAZING FAST, left the Twins and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Then he tried to get an agent again. This time his perseverance paid off. Twice, even: He landed two agents.
The first was Travis Bell, founder and CEO of The Seven Bridges Group. The second was Colin Cummins, who worked for Bell before leaving to start his own agency. In September of 2011, Montaous called Bell, said he was 24 and gave him his usual pitch, even putting his mother on the phone. That 6.3 60 speed grabbed Bell immediately. He did a quick Google search, found only what Montaous hoped he would, and asked Montaous to have people from the Blue Jays contact him. Montaous dutifully complied, sending emails himself, impersonating coaches and scouts. Hungry for clients and swamped with other work, Bell took what he later described as "a knee-jerk risk" and signed Montaous sight unseen. Over the next few months, Bell flew Montaous to Boston—under the impression that Walton was visiting his father—and then to Tampa, so Montaous could attend the Blue Jays’ fall camp.
In January of 2012, Montaous called Jessica and told her all about his trips, his new team, his new agent. I’m really doing it, he said. I’ll still take you back if you leave your man.
Bell finally called the Blue Jays himself and learned they had never heard of a Montaous Walton.
Jessica remained skeptical, and she said as much, so Montaous gave her Bell’s phone number. She and Bell had a long conversation. Afterward, Bell confronted Montaous and demanded to see his Jays contract. Walton sent him … something. It was a Word document. Sort of a contract, but not quite, and it was loaded with errors, not least of which was that "Toronto Blue Jays" was spelled "toronto blue jays," in all lowercase letters. Bell finally called the Blue Jays himself and learned they had never heard of a Montaous Walton.
What the HELL, Walton?
At first, Montaous tried to laugh it off, but when that only made Bell angrier, Montaous broke down. He apologized emphatically, and he cried. Believing him to be contrite, Bell agreed not to press charges. Montaous said thank you so much, He’d never do something so stupid again. Thank you so, so much.
Then he called Cummins.
Cummins, whose new agency was in its infancy, assumed that Montaous had already been cleared by Bell and didn’t question Montaous’ reason for leaving, which was that he and Bell simply had a disagreement—after all, Cummins had a disagreement with Bell as well. He mentored Montaous and did everything he could to be a good, young, ambitious agent. Then he made all the same mistakes that Bell did and more, even flying Montaous from Boston to Tampa, where he stayed at a Quality Inn. According to an employee, Montaous stayed there for a few days, made long-distance phone calls, ordered room service and charged everything to his room. He told the hotel that he was a baseball player and that his coach would settle the bill. Then he just left. Nobody ever paid the bill.
In April, Bell, hearing of his old employee’s misfortune, called Cummins. Uh-oh.
Cummins didn’t want to get Montaous in trouble either. But when it became clear Montaous had no intention of paying him back, he tried to convince Montaous to seek help, and he contacted the Walton family for their help. Their response, particularly from his sister, LaShonda, left Cummins dizzy: Montaous will be fine.
But Montaous wasn’t finished. Everyone knows that a real Prospect perseveres. Montaous got out the laptop again and this time went online and to the media at the same time. Now Prospect Montaous was leaving Toronto to play for Criollos de Caguas down in Puerto Rico.
In mid-April Owczarski published a story that read like a rap sheet of Montaous’ missteps.
So far, Montaous hadn’t worried much about what would happen if anyone in the media discovered the truth. He’d always just ignored them, and the media, embarrassed, had ignored him and the stories had simply disappeared. But in April 2012, OnMilwaukee.com reporter Jim Owczarski started poking around. He didn’t believe Montaous, but he didn’t ignore him, either. He started reporting.
Montaous tried to spin his way out of the stuff Owczarski dug up, but this time it was kind of serious. Cummins and Bell had contacted Dan Mullin, the Vice President of Major League Baseball’s Department of Investigations. Mullin decided that he would find Montaous and told Owczarski he would have him prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Owczarski asked Montaous about it, but Montaous still ignored him, hoping Owczarski would disappear. Instead, in mid-April Owczarski published a story that read like a rap sheet of Montaous’ missteps [link]. It dominated any "Montaous Walton" Google search.
Montaous begged Owczarski to take the story down. When Owczarski refused, Montaous first threatened to sue and then he threatened to have his family come down to Owczarski’s office and make him take it down.
Nothing ever happened.
By now, a reasonable person would probably think that this is the point in the story where "The Kid Who Played Baseball" faces the facts and, finally growing up, accepts the consequences of his actions, puts the Prospect to rest in peace, and lives—well, if not happily ever after, at least in a way that’s moving on.
In Which Our Hero Valiantly Fights On Despite Mighty Opposition
Unable to sit idly by and wait for his fate to unfold—and not knowing what else to do—as soon as Owczarski’s story went live, Montaous went back online and started writing again. He attacked those who had wronged him. He even called a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa and spoke on a local sports talk show. When they asked about Owczarski’s story, Montaous said he’d just had some bad advisors in his life, and that his agents had been criminals, that Owczarski had made everything up, that he was suing everybody, and that now that he’d weeded out negative influences from his inner circle, he’d gotten on the straight and narrow. And he laughed while he said it.
Still hoping to make his dreams come true, through a mutual acquaintance, Montaous met an actual former big leaguer, Larry Hisle, the 14-year major league veteran, Milwaukee Brewers legend, two-time All-Star, and two-time World Series champion as hitting coach with the Toronto Blue Jays. Hisle, who works in the Milwaukee area with Major League Baseball’s youth mentorship program, had been too busy helping sick and ambitious kids to have ever heard about Montaous. He believed Montaous was much younger and that he was heading to Puerto Rico in June to play for a team down there. They met at the Beckum-Stapleton Little League complex in Milwaukee. Montaous even brought his mom and grandma. They all watched a game together and talked for hours. After the game, Hisle spent half an hour on the field giving Montaous base-stealing tips.
I arrived in Milwaukee shortly thereafter, near the beginning of May 2012.
A few months earlier, while working on a story about obscure prospects, I stumbled on Montaous’ story, and after making many phone calls, I decided I had to meet Montaous for myself. I chose to approach him with no assumptions. I wanted to see who the guy really was. I emailed him, told him my story idea about obscure prospects, and asked if he’d let me work out with him and give me permission to look into his life. I thought I’d never hear back from him.
Montaous agreed. He was, in fact, thrilled. He even called Mike Christopulos and told him the story would be good publicity.
On the day after Memorial Day, 2012, I met Montaous to take him to lunch and picked him up at the townhome where he lived with his mother in a working-class neighborhood in Milwaukee. Montaous answered the door with his gigantic cousin standing behind him. They were excited about a free meal. Montaous smiled and seemed relaxed. He also looked four inches shy of his advertised six feet. He wore white basketball shoes, jeans, a white T-shirt, a long silver chain with a big cross, and a royal blue Toronto Blue Jays cap with the sticker still on the brim. He had some scraggly scruff on his chin, and he looked more like he was 21, not 28.
“Whassup, cuz,” he said, slapping hands and pulling me in for a bro-hug. His cousin did the same. Something smelled like weed.
In the kitchen, some dark brown shelves held six trophies: PLAYBALL BASEBALL ACADEMY 2009 STOLEN BASE LEADER. 2009 ALL ROOKIE TEAM BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER. 2010 MINOR LEAGUE BASEBALL MOST IMPROVED PLAYER.
“Hey,” I said, “what are these?”
He laughed and said, “You know, awards.”
“Well yeah, but where—”
“Hold on.” He raised his palm at me and laughed and pretended to take a phone call. I could tell he was only pretending because as he talked, his phone rang.
At lunch, my first question was, “So how old are you?”
He laughed and asked me, “How old are you?”
When I asked him what he did to earn a living, he seemed confused and said, “I just do baseball”
Over the next few days, he gave me a generic version of his story—without, of course, a mention of the fraud, the agents, or the MLB investigation. He said that he’d signed a contract with Criollos de Caguas, and he was heading down there in mid-June. (In reality, Criollos de Caguas is a pro winter ball club for promising prospects. Montaous had been bugging their management for “sample contracts” and the like; they declined.)
When I asked him what he did to earn a living, he seemed confused and said, “I just do baseball,” and mentioned being paid to speak to local little leaguers. He did give a speech, but according to local officials, wasn’t paid.
I asked Walton to take me through his training routine. Our weightlifting session lasted 20 minutes and consisted of bicep curls, shoulder shrugs, and bench presses. When I asked what he did for lower body workouts, he said, “Typically, I do a lot of legs.”
I’m no scout, but I played four years of Division II college ball. My kid brother plays in the Angels organization. I threw Montaous batting practice and he had a decent bat, at least from the right side, hitting mostly line drives and hard ground balls, albeit with a few bad swings when I threw him some sliders. From the left side, however, he looked as uncomfortable as I have ever seen a human being swinging a bat. He stepped sideways with his lead foot, he swung with his shoulders, he didn’t follow through. And he laughed. A lot. After a half-dozen or so swings, he just started bunting, then he laughed some more and said, “I’m still workin’ on this, bruh.”
The 60-yard dash was even worse. He took off his shoes, saying, “I’m faster in just my socks.” He took off on a leisurely jog, as though trying to give the appearance that running was easy. Loping to the finish, he said, “This is too far, man.”
“Dude,” I blurted, “you’re jogging.”
He ran it again, but he did the exact same thing, and didn’t even run all the way through. He just stopped and said, “That’s just too far, dawg,” and he laughed.
What struck me though—in a curious, positive way—was his glove. Remember how he nearly got killed throwing with Jay Wojcinski, and how poorly he’d done at ABI and UWW’s tryouts? Well, I can throw in the mid-80s and he caught everything without the slightest flinch. The only explanation is that he hasn’t just been typing things into a computer. Someway, somehow, through hard work, practice, and utter perseverance, he’s actually been trying to become a better baseball player—and, apart from hitting left-handed, he has. He’s no prospect, but for an amateur player, he’s OK. And I found that to be, in a really strange way, sort of inspiring.
On my third day with him, Montaous and I went to lunch again. He ordered a dozen wings and orange juice. We talked about Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, and redemption. We talked about the great weight of sin and lies and we talked about the great freedom that comes with admitting to and repenting for our wrongdoing.
He asked if I thought guys like Vick really felt forgiven. I said I don’t know—I told him if it’s not genuine and just for their public image, then they probably still feel heavy, but if it’s for real and for themselves, they probably feel free. He nodded.
During the drive back to his mom’s townhome, I asked him about his own missteps for the first time. He lashed out. “You said you were gonna write about obscure prospects!” he yelled. I told him I had to find out if he was a real prospect, someone who really had a shot at baseball and had just gone about things in a creative way. Then I said he wasn’t a real prospect, and I asked him why he was doing all of this. “I don’t want to write that you’re crazy or anything like that,” I said. “I just want to figure out why you’re still doing this. Why you still want this that bad.”
I asked him about his own missteps for the first time. He lashed out.
He didn’t explain. Most of the drive, he sat in silence while I kept talking, trying to show him how explaining everything might help him. He just shook his head and accused me of deceiving him. He looked out the passenger window, looked as far away from me as possible. “Man, just say I’m done,” he said. “I’m done with baseball. I’ll say I’m going back to school. I’m done with baseball. Done.”
Mostly he just pouted, looking like a kid who didn’t get what he wanted for Christmas. When we pulled up to the Walton townhome, I took a breath and asked him, “You gonna be OK, man?”
He just nodded and said, “Yeah.” He sighed and looked out the window of the car, at the townhome, and then he said, “I just wish all this could go away. I wish I could just move on.” Then he got out of the car and walked back to the townhome, carrying his box of leftover wings and a to-go orange juice.
The day after I left Milwaukee, Montaous was finally arrested for fraud.
The day after I left Milwaukee, Montaous was finally arrested for fraud. When they cuffed him he said, “I’m sorry.” He sat in the back of the cruiser and while they searched the townhome, he cried.
I just happened to call him while the police were there. His mom answered and said, “The fuck you want? Montaous is in a heap of trouble because of all this bullshit you people be writin’ about him on the Internet.” Then she told me to go to hell and hung up. Later, I received a text message from LaShonda: “I state very seriously: Kick rocks asshole. Feel free to quote me.”
The police took his laptop and a natural-wood colored maple bat that Cummins had made for him, one with a black engraving black on the barrel that read MONTAOUS WALTON TORONTO BLUE JAYS.
Walton was charged with two counts of theft by fraud, one a Class I felony and faced up to three years in jail and $10,000 in fines. After several court hearings that stretched over several months, he accepted a deal. As long as he meets several conditions laid out by the court, including community service and paying restitution, the charges will be classified as “Not Processed.”
We stay in touch and, in time, Montaous opens up to me, but only a little. He says that all the message boards and the media and agent fraud were all misguided mistakes. Says that he tricked the agents into flying him to Boston so he could hang out with his friends and a girlfriend he has there. Says he went to Florida on the agents’ dime because he really thought he could just walk up to Blue Jays camp and ask for a tryout. He never tells me much more. He always says the same thing, “Just chasin’ my dream, man.”
So: Montaous now. He seems to have left Jessica in the past and says that girl from Boston has moved to Milwaukee and they live together now. I can’t confirm this. I can’t even confirm that he got a baseball tattoo he keeps telling me about. He keeps saying he’ll send a picture, but never does.
Although the tattoo may or may not be real, and many things about Montaous are not real at all, what is real and apparently permanent is this: Now 29 years old, Montaous is still “The Kid Who Plays Baseball.” He still chases the dream. Gonna make it the right way this time, he says. Grateful for a second chance, he says. Gonna break down and cry if I make a team this summer, he says, because I’ve been through so much.
But Montaous, I ask, you’re almost 30 now—what will you do if this never happens for you?
Oh, he has a backup plan now. Last fall he was in college at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, at least his fifth school in the past decade, and he says he knows what he wants to do when he graduates. He says he’s been thinking about it for a long time, ever since meeting Christopulos. When he’s ready to give up the dream, he thinks it would be great fun to be a … sports journalist.
I ask him a million times, why did you do the things you did before? But the answer never ever changes.
They don’t matter, they’re an old chapter. Focused on the present and the future, not focused on the past. Just chasin’ my dream, man.
But why, Montaous, why?
He’ll yell and fuss. He’ll say that even Larry Hisle, the old ballplayer who mentors him, told him to ignore me and the rest of us media types, we snakes and dogs and purveyors of negativity. But according to Hisle, “All we talked about was baseball. That’s all he cared about. All he wanted was to be a better baseball player.”
“It was that simple?” I ask.
“It was that simple.”
So, in that, I think we finally find the “why” of this story. Maybe all this has always been that simple.
Our fantasies aren’t really about sports or glory. They’re about what sports have always really been and always will be. Escaping. The fantasies are all about revisiting the world as it was when we were just kids, where things were so simple, when we believed that if we never stopped dreaming, and never ever quit, the dream would come true—when all of life itself was but a dream.
For some time, Montaous’ online alter ego remained silent, but over recent months, the dust of his story has begun to stir. A message board posting here, a blog comment there, even an occasional interview. Some mention post-arrest vindication, tryouts and teams that still want him, inspirational stories about the kid from Milwaukee who just wants to play baseball.
Mike Christopulos, who despite everything still cares and worries about him, asked Montaous recently if he was done with the lying, done with the crime. Montaous replied that he was. The old newspaper reporter came out in Christopulos: He asked again, asked how he could be certain, asked, So you promise, you’re definitely done?
Montaous assured his old friend that, yes, he was done, he definitely was done. And then he laughed.