This story originally ran in December 2017 on MiamiStories.net.
When she was five, Kelley Montalvo dropped her gymnastics and piano lessons and picked up a ball and a glove. That’s when it all started.
Now 30, Montalvo has acheived what many pro players, men and women, can only wish to accomplish–from being one of the top high school recruits in the nation and playing for one of the most esteemed collegiate softball programs in the country to playing professionally and being the leader of her team.
“I’ve worked really hard to get where I am,” said Montalvo. “And to be honest, I’ve had to overcome a lot of obstacles, both mentally and physically, throughout my career.”
Montalvo, who stands 4-foot-11, always had trouble getting recruiters and coaches to believe in her abilities, said her mother, Grisel Montalvo.
“She basically had to work twice as hard to get noticed because people thought she was limited due to her height,“ she said. “But the coaches that did believe in her have made her who she is, and the ones that didn’t regret it now, I’m sure.”
Still, her height did not stop her. She was recruited to the University of Alabama on a full scholarship. Throughout her collegiate career, Montalvo won many tournaments and championships with her team and became a First Team All-American player.
In her senior year, however, she faced yet another obstacle: Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She was torn between taking her team to the Women’s College World Series or leaving Alabama to take care of her mother.
“When my mom told me she was sick, I wanted to leave right away,” she said. “I was done playing, I just wanted to go be with her.”
But her mother had different plans.
“When she told me she wanted to come home and quit playing I said ‘absolutely not,’” her mother said. “I told her that the only way I would be okay is if she stayed in Alabama and took us to the World Series.”
The Alabama Crimson Tide made it to the World Series two months later.
Montalvo said that she is grateful to her mom for continuing to push her, then and now.
(All photos by Amanda Gala)
“I thank her every day for that, because not only did she let me finish my season, but it also helped me to begin my career playing pro,” she said.
Montalvo has now been playing professional softball for the Akron Racers in Ohio, part of the National Pro Fastpitch league, for nine years. As one of the oldest players in professional softball, Montalvo said she has seen how hard the women work and how talented they are. And still, she said, it is not even near half of what Major League Baseball is in terms of publicity and salary.
“The thing that I feel makes this profession so bittersweet is that we don’t have a full, year-round season like the men do,” she said. “From May to August we’re softball players, but once the season is over, we’re teachers and accountants and firefighters. We have to go back to our real jobs because the money we make playing pro can’t support us all year.”
Montalvo has made a career coaching at both the high school and collegiate level.
In August 2017, she was hired as Barry University’s new assistant softball coach–the first time the college has ever had a professional player on its softball staff.
Head Coach Sean Cotter, who was hired at the same time as Montalvo, said he’s looking forward to having a professional player on board.
“Who better to coach these girls than someone who has been in their shoes?” said Cotter. “It’s one of the main reasons why we wanted Kelley.”
Cotter, who has 18 years of coaching experience, said he’s never seen a style of playing or coaching quite like Montalvo’s, and that her passion and love for the game shows in that way.
Montalvo said she was excited to see what this season has in store for the Barry Buccaneers, who began playing in January 2018.
“What we’re trying to inspire this season is a culture change,” she said. “Their past seasons haven’t been the best lately, so we’re trying to get these girls into a winning mentality.”
Montalvo’s ideal job, however, would be to take over the Akron Racers team. She said that recently, her general manager, Joey Arrietta, offered her the team.
“I didn’t expect it at all, but I was truly honored,” she said. ”It gave me a lot to think about.”
Montalvo said she would like to see the team and the league grow.
“My dream for pro softball is for it to be as big as Major League Baseball,” she said. “I want people to see that girls can play as hard and as well as the boys.”