Belmonte helped build Saltdogs
Nick Belmonte is one of those perfect salesmen.
Not only does he sell the product, he comes to your house and tries to make it work better than ever.
Belmonte, who lives in Tampa, Fla., is the director of baseball operations for the Lincoln Saltdogs. He is the eyes, ears and voice of the Saltdogs’ scouting and the keystone to team building.
If a player puts on a Saltdogs uniform, it is likely Belmonte saw the guy play, sold the idea of the player coming to Lincoln and helped negotiate a contract.
And he was smiling along with Saltdogs management when team captain Bryan Warner hit a home run and had two singles and Tony Garcia, Joe Dempsey and Ross McCoy collected two hits apiece in Lincoln’s 7-5 victory against St. Joe on Thursday night at Haymarket Park.
Belmonte was in town to check on his “recruits” and to give his annual base-running seminar at Haymarket Park. “I just love coming here because this is the classiest organization in minor-league baseball and I know these players all care about winning a championship,” Belmonte said.
Lincoln showed its willingness to win Thursday as starter Kyle Ruwe pitched seven innings and allowed eight hits to earn the victory, while Warner, Josh Patton and McCoy all homered to even the team’s record at 19-19 for the second half of the American Association season.
Belmonte has been in the independent baseball team-building business since 1993 and with the Saltdogs since the team’s inception in 2001. He has been in the base-running business since he set the record at Florida for stolen bases that still stands 30 years later and stole 52 bases in 70 games in the Northwest League.
“He’s the guy we talk to after every season,” said Saltdogs manager Tim Johnson. “We talk about our needs for the next season and he talks with Tim Utrup (Lincoln general manager) and we get what we need to win.”
It isn’t easy.
Belmonte has conducted tryout camps across the country for former college players, players who were drafted and cut, players who just want another chance at pro baseball. He scouts when he’s working an a color announcer for Fox Sports South, ESPN and Comcast. He scouts when he visits colleges. He’s almost constantly on the phone, talking baseball.
“You really can’t shut him up,” joked one American Association executive. “But he does know a lot and he’ll let you know anything you want to know.”
Belmonte is also quick to react.
This summer, the New York State independent league was halted in midseason for reorganization. Within two weeks of the league’s stoppage, the Saltdogs picked up Dempsey, McCoy and pitcher Brian Campbell.
Campbell is 2-2 with a 3.58 earned-run average. McCoy is hitting .282 as a backup outfielder to Corey Harrington, who is slowed by a shoulder injury, and Dempsey is hitting .308 and is a solid backup to Aaron Mendoza at catcher.
“We get some kids that we know Nick believes in,” Johnson said. “We know they will be able to play and we know he makes sure they will fit in. We don’t sign bad seeds and it’s because Nick and Tim (Utrup) do a great job of evaluating the players.”
Belmonte was responsible for bringing Bryan Warner, Josh Patton, Pichi Balet and Seth Pietsch to the Saltdogs. He also brought in Lindsay Gulin, the top pitcher in the league last year, who is now with the Milwaukee Brewers’ Triple-A team, and Chris Jakubauskas, who led Lincoln to the first-half championship and is now with the San Diego Padres’ minor-league system.