CLEVELAND — From the moment he was hired as the Blue Jays 13th manager, there has been a steady stream of unforgettable moments for Charlie Montoyo.
Opening Day in Toronto with his mother at the Rogers Centre to witness it certainly stands out, as did his first address to the team back in spring training — the moment where he felt the dream finally became real.
But of all the love showered on the 53-year-old career minor-league manager, one that will hold a special place to Montoyo came prior to Game 3 of the 2018 World Series.
It was there that Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora hit pause in his Dodger Stadium news conference to veer away from talk about David Price and Mookie Betts to congratulate and heap praise on his fellow native of Puerto Rico.
“It meant a lot and even more knowing how busy he was and going through the pressure of the World Series and him taking the time to acknowledge me and congratulate me,” Montoyo told the Toronto Sun prior to a game here this week. “I won’t forget that.”
He is unlikely to forget what awaits on Tuesday at Boston’s storied Fenway Park, either, a game that will capture the hearts of all associated with Puerto Rico, the tiny baseball-loving island.
“Everybody’s been talking about that since I got the job, that they knew we were going to play Boston on April 9,” Montoyo said. “That’s the first thing I heard: you and Cora are going to face each other. I think it’s great for me, it’s great for my family and friends and it’s going to be great for Puerto Rico.”
Though Montoyo and Cora are a decade apart in age and have had vastly different career paths, they are united by the alternating red stripes and five-pointed star of the Puerto Rican flag. And when the Jays hired Montoyo, that brotherhood only strengthened.
“We’ve texted here and there and he’s been great, very helpful,” Montoyo said. “I saw him at the Winter Meetings and we talked about the job and some of the things that go with it. He said he’s very proud of me and I said the same thing. I said it’s not easy what you’ve done and as a Puerto Rican, I’m proud of what you’ve accomplished already.”
Through their Puerto Rican bond, their paths have crossed occasionally, most notably at the 2009 World Baseball Classic, when Montoyo was a coach with the national team and Cora an infielder.
“There’s only 30 jobs and there’s 30 owners,” Cora said when praising the Jays’ hire of his compatriot. “And they’re going to hire who they feel is capable. The people here in Boston, they saw me that way and now in Toronto they did it with Charlie.
“I’ve been saying it for five or six years: This is not about minorities. It’s not about him being Latino or Puerto Rican. Charlie Montoyo is a great baseball man and he’s been coaching and managing for a lot of years.”
The Jays certainly didn’t land on Montoyo as a minority hire when looking for John Gibbons’ replacement, but they were definitely cognizant of the value added fit he provided given the changing nature of the game.
With several top-end Latin prospects in the Jays pipeline — including star-in-waiting Vlad Guerrero Jr. — it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a Spanish-speaking manager calling the shots in the dugout.
“If you think about the way the game has evolved and what percentage of our game is either minority or Latin American and now that our staffs — not just managers — are more representative of our population of talent, it’s very positive,” Atkins said. “And also I think it’s just great thinking of the game beyond the 50 states and Canada. You think about outreach and the game growing.
“I think we can always get better as an industry and as a game and it seems as though we’re making some positive steps that way.”
Both managers expect a busy week in Boston, where they will face interviews about their compatriot connection while family and friends will be on hand to celebrate. Montoyo has heard rumours that Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico will also make the journey.
Montoyo has never lost touch with the roots of his homeland where the baseball mad islanders have followed his career through his many minor league stops, his assistant coach gig in Tampa and now to the Jays.
And the feeling was mutual. Still, when Montoyo returned home to visit family and friends this past December, he was blown away by the reception that awaited him.
“Getting there at midnight, I wasn’t expecting anybody and all of a sudden there was this band there playing music and my friends were there waiting for me,” Montoyo recalled. “It’s funny — it was the same friends that took me to the airport the first time I left the island 30-something years earlier. It was very special.”
This week will be special as well, albeit for a pair of managers looking to cleanse some of the poor taste from terrible starts to the season. On Tuesday, the Red Sox will celebrate their World Series title in front of a home-opener crowd and it will be Cora’s time in the spotlight.
But in the bigger picture beyond the game, there will be something bigger for the two men to share, a union forged in patriotism and celebrated as such in their homeland.
“It means a lot to us Puerto Ricans, but it means a lot to baseball as well,” Montoyo said. “You see more minorities managing and now two people from Puerto Rico managing against each other in the same division. I think that’s very cool.”
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