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Phillies' Giles never forgets his fallen friend

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Roman Montano was like a brother, Ken Giles said. The two were teammates since they were 5 years old. The hard-throwing righthanders were teammates in high school. They practiced together on the weekend. Their sights were set on the major leagues.

(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
(David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)Read more

CLEARWATER, Fla. - Roman Montano was like a brother, Ken Giles said.

The two were teammates since they were 5 years old. The hard-throwing righthanders were teammates in high school. They practiced together on the weekend. Their sights were set on the major leagues.

But Montano's dream derailed. He fell into trouble shortly before his senior season. He was kicked off the team. Montano's baseball career was over. He felt hopeless. He eased the pain by abusing prescription drugs. Four years later, he was dead.

"It's one of those things that hit me hard," said Giles, the Phillies' hard-throwing, righthanded setup man. "His time was cut short. He could have done anything in this world. You never want to forget that and you never want to take life for granted."

Giles, 24, stores three black Rawlings baseball gloves on the top shelf of his locker in the Phillies clubhouse. The relief pitcher custom-ordered the mitts last season to have "100M Giles" stitched into the side. It was the nickname the righthander earned in the minor leagues for his ability to spike a radar gun.

Giles uses a permanent marker to inscribe Montano's initials and a pair of crosses into the thumb of every mitt, the same way he has since Montano died of a heroin overdose on May 2, 2012.

"I can't tell you how honored we feel that Kenny just doesn't forget our son," JoAnn Montano said by phone. "He knew the kind of person he was. My son was a good kid with a bright future."

Roman Montano was a three-sport athlete at Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, N.M. He was 6-foot-6 and starred in baseball, basketball, and football. Montano was on the school's honor roll and had a great sense of humor. His mother said everyone seemed to gravitate toward him.

"He just had it made, basically," JoAnn Montano said. "We just knew that his life was set."

Recruiters and scouts all wanted a piece of him. Division I coaches started calling after Montano's fastball was clocked at 94 m.p.h. in his sophomore year. His mother said major-league scouts watched him pitch in the winter of his senior year. He expected scouts to come out in droves that season. Montano even skipped his final football season to protect his baseball future.

"He was set to go into the draft right after graduation," JoAnn Montano said. "From what we understand, he was supposed to go in the high rounds."

The absence of football created a void in Montano's schedule. He started hanging around with high school dropouts he had known from middle school. The wrong group, his mother said.

They were at a local restaurant one night when someone found a wallet. The boys took the credit card to the mall and ran up the charges. Montano's mother said her son used it for $52. The boys were caught.

Montano was charged with conspiracy theft of a credit card, a fourth-degree felony. The pitcher was kicked off the team as soon as the school learned of the incident. His mother said his life changed drastically because of an "impulsive bad decision." Montano's senior season was over before it started.

"It was just a catastrophic thing for him. It was just devastating," JoAnn Montano said. "He was genuinely a really good kid."

Montano later told his mother the incident drove him to painkillers. The drugs, he said, numbed him to everything that was going on. Montano never thought he would become addicted.

"Our son thought he was invincible," JoAnn Montano said. "Because he was so big, he never thought that something could grip him like that drug did."

Montano soon moved onto smoking heroin, cheaper than the painkillers. His mother said he was on and off the drugs for the next few years. He briefly attended the University of New Mexico but felt out of place.

Montano returned home. He got engaged to Mikaila Lovato, whom he had met in high school. The couple had a baby, Addyson Leigh. Montano worked for Verizon. His mother said he was clean for a few years. His life seemed to be moving in the right direction.

"Whether it was sports or a job, he was a very dedicated and driven kid," JoAnn Montano said. "For some reason, me and my husband thought that he would be able to overcome it. We never imagined that we would lose our son to a drug overdose."

Montano was found dead in his car at 22. His mother said that was the first time she learned her son was using a needle.

"He was one of my greatest friends," Giles said. "He was with me my whole life. He was just an amazing guy to be around."

At the time of Montano's death, Giles was just breaking into in the Phillies' minor leagues. Last year he quickly climbed to the major leagues thanks to a 100 m.p.h. fastball and a devastating slider.

Giles debuted in June and compiled one of the best rookie seasons in team history. He struck out 64 batters in 452/3 innings. Giles yielded just six earned runs. And he did it all with Montano's initials marked on his glove.

"I feel like he's always with me," Giles said.

Montano never fulfilled his baseball dream. His talent - a fastball just like Giles' - was never tested against major-league hitters.

But each time Giles takes the mound, Montano does too.

Phillies' Biddle honors his brother

Phillies prospect Jesse Biddle pitches each game with a yellow bracelet on his left wrist and a blue one on his right.

They are from the second-grade class of Biddle's older brother, Sam, who teaches at Young Scholars Frederick Douglass Charter School in North Philadelphia.

The students earn the bracelets in the classroom. The yellow one says "CHALLENGE YOURSELF." The blue one reads "EXPLORE YOUR WORLD."

"I don't know if they realize I'm wearing these bands, but I wear them for them as well as to honor what my brother does every single day," said Biddle, who grew up in Mount Airy.

"He's the hardest-working person I've ever met."

Biddle said his brother's class comes each season to one or two of his games. Sam Biddle, 26, takes the top 10 students from his class as a reward.

"My brother's one of the most inspirational people to me," Biddle said. "He's fighting the good fight in the public school system of Philadelphia and he's pretty awesome."

O' brother: Siblings in Phillies' minor-league system

Ryan and Sean O'Sullivan have not been teammates since 2005. That could change this season as the brothers may cross paths in the Phillies' minor-league system.

Ryan O'Sullivan, 24, pitched in 37 games last season for double-A Reading.

Sean O'Sullivan, 27, pitched in 25 games with triple-A Lehigh Valley and three for the Phillies.

The O'Sullivans are together at minor-league camp after Sean spent a month at major-league camp. They were last teammates when Sean was a senior and his younger brother was a freshman at San Diego's Valhalla High.

The Phillies have not had brothers as teammates at the major-league level since Dave and Dennis Bennett in 1964. Four other sets of brothers have played together with the Phillies.

"It would be really cool," Ryan said. "Maybe we're back-to-back starters. Or he starts a game and I come in in relief. Anything can happen, it would be fun."

The brothers spent the offseason working out together. Ryan lived with his brother for the first few weeks of camp before he had to move into the team's minor-league hotel.

"We get along great," Ryan said. "He's one of my best friends, if not my best friend. We have a good time together. His wife and kids are awesome."

The Phillies acquired Ryan in 2012 from the Los Angeles Dodgers. His brother signed with the team before last season.

"Him being a part of this organization was a nice little cherry on top," Sean said.