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Blue Jays Manager Charlie Montoyo Moonlights at Salsa Clubs

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The salsa band was 45 minutes into their first set at Lula Lounge on a recent Saturday when Charlie Montoyo showed up on the front door. An owner of the music club spotted Montoyo and led him and his group to a table reserved for them closest to the stage.

Montoyo, 56, took off his jacket and waved to the band members he knew. Moments later, Montoyo, the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays — one in every of the highest teams in Major League Baseball — was up there with the band and was handed a güiro, a staple of Latin American music. A smile remained on his face for the subsequent two and a half hours.

“Tonight, we’re accompanied by our great manager of the Blue Jays,” Luis Franco, the lead singer of his self-titled band, told the audience in Spanglish. He signaled for Montoyo to hitch him on the front of the stage and continued, “This guy is doing an impeccable job with our team. A round of applause, please.”

Montoyo advanced, embraced Franco, smiled and waved to the group. But he quickly returned to his preferred position: with the band members, among the many instruments.

Baseball will be the driving force of Montoyo’s life, but music has been the underlying beat. His stadium office is cluttered with bongos, congas, timbales, maracas and records. He plays salsa music to loosen up before games. And sometimes, he spends weekends through the season accompanying bands in night clubs with a güiro, an instrument which produces sound by rubbing a stick against a notched hole gourd.

“Charlie jumping onstage has been a thing our whole relationship,” Montoyo’s wife, Sam, said in a recent phone interview. “I remember looking up during our wedding after talking to people, and he’s onstage with the band.”

On the sphere, the Blue Jays are a various and vibrant bunch. After a player homers, his teammates rush to get him a blue jacket, which features the names of the numerous countries represented on the team, from Canada to the Dominican Republic to Cuba to South Korea.

Montoyo is their boisterous leader, though it took him an extended time to achieve this point. After 18 highly successful years of managing within the minors for the Tampa Bay Rays and 4 years of coaching within the majors, he finally got his likelihood to administer Toronto in 2019.

“Loosen up, all right? Don’t attempt to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls, it’s more democratic.”

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He took over a promising but rebuilt roster and guided it to the playoffs in 2020. The Blue Jays fell one win shy of one other postseason appearance last season but entered 2022 as a preferred preseason World Series pick. Through Wednesday, they were 33-23.

Every step of the way in which for Montoyo, the soundtrack has been salsa.

“He’s been phenomenal,” Blue Jays General Manager Ross Atkins said of Montoyo. “His experiences have at all times been attractive to me, personally. His minor league experiences, his playing experiences, his cultural experiences. He’s been exactly what we had hoped for in hiring him after which some.”

From the small town of Florida, Puerto Rico, Montoyo was raised around salsa and baseball. After a four-game call-up with the Montreal Expos in 1993 and 1,028 games within the minors, Montoyo retired and commenced his coaching profession.

“I at all times desired to be a baseball player,” he said sitting in his office on the Rogers Centre in Toronto. “I never thought I’d be a musician. But little by little, I played more. And I like salsa. But now, yes, I’d like to be a musician.”

Unlike his brothers, Montoyo never took music classes or joined the varsity band. Growing up, he learned music organically. At parrandas, a Puerto Rican tradition that’s like Christmas caroling at night, he helped play the maracas, güiro or tambourine as they went door to door. At gatherings on the beach, he watched others play the congas and picked it up himself.

Montoyo has a big collection of instruments at his everlasting residence in Tucson, Ariz., and at his office on the Rogers Centre, which can also be a shrine in equal parts to Puerto Rico and salsa. His wife surprised him with an autographed painting of his favorite musician, Herman Olivera, and a latest set of congas for the office after he was hired by Toronto.

Montoyo said meeting or attending to know a few of his musical heroes — comparable to Roberto Roena, Oscar Hernández, Eddie Palmieri and Olivera — has meant more to him than meeting many famous baseball players.

During spring training in 2019, Montoyo hosted an impromptu performance in his office in Dunedin, Fla., with the singer Marc Anthony, whose entertainment company has a baseball agency that represents the Blue Jays star first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Anthony sang “Aguanile,” the salsa classic by Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe, while Montoyo handled the bongos. Other members of the Blue Jays coaching staff from Puerto Rico joined in.

(The night of Montoyo’s recent visit to Lula Lounge, he texted Anthony a video of his performance. “Wow,” Anthony wrote back. “What swing, papito. I like it. Made my day.”)

Montoyo holds jam sessions often. He once invited a number of musicians from the club to his office, they usually played until 4 a.m. But more often than not, Montoyo is by himself, cuing up music videos on the TV hours before a game and playing along.

“We’re in a competitive sport, and the position he’s in comes with quite a lot of pressure and a spotlight from the moment he walks within the clubhouse,” said Hector Lebron, 44, an interpreter for the Blue Jays who played for Montoyo as a Tampa Bay minor leaguer. “He uses the music to loosen up just a little bit and to think.”

Montoyo first played at Lula Lounge in 2019. During pregame batting practice in May, he met a few of the musicians from the club who had heard about his musical ability through mutual friends. Of their conversation, Luis “Luisito” Orbegoso, a well known local artist, said he could tell Montoyo knew what he was talking about and invited him to the club that night. Montoyo got here and played, and that began their friendship.

“At any time when he’s in Toronto, he calls me to ask, ‘When are we going to play? When are we going to rumbear?’” said Orbegoso, 51, who was born in Peru and moved to Canada when he was 12. “Including within the winter, the off-season, he contacts me and sends me videos. We’re pure salsa.”

Lula Lounge was among the many things Montoyo missed most about Toronto from 2020 to 2021, when Canada’s pandemic border restrictions forced the Blue Jays to play a majority of their home games in Buffalo and their spring-training facility in Florida.

“He’s got a house here,” said Jose Ortega, a co-owner of Lula Lounge who began hosting salsa dance lessons at his apartment in Toronto in 2000 before that grew after two years into the everlasting restaurant and club that he co-owns with Jose Nieves. “We see him as almost one other band member.”

Montoyo has played at Lula Lounge six times in all, including twice this season after Saturday afternoon home games. He often goes with team officials or coaches and has brought his wife when she was visiting from Arizona, where she stays through the school 12 months with their youngest son. Montoyo was drained the day of his most up-to-date visit — the Blue Jays were in the course of a stretch of 20 straight days of games — however the club is his escape.

“If Sam knows it’s Saturday and we lost a tricky game and I’m on the apartment alone, she tells me to go there and luxuriate in,” Montoyo said.

So after the Blue Jays beat the Houston Astros — a game from which Montoyo was ejected within the fifth inning for arguing a called third strike to Guerrero — he was at Lula Lounge with the Luis Franco Worldwide Salsa band.

“We call it swing,” said Alex Naar, 42, a percussionist for the band who lent Montoyo a güiro and guided him through the more modern arrangements. “He has a natural swing for the music. He feels it in his heart. He has the rhythm.”

After the primary set, Montoyo posed for photos with a number of fans. As a D.J. played salsa and reggaeton classics, Montoyo darted as much as the empty stage to play congas together with the song. And when the band returned for his or her second set, he rejoined them.

“Baseball may be very Caribbean,” said Ortega, who was born in Ecuador and raised in Recent York. “It’s Puerto Rican, it’s Dominican, Venezuelan, and the entire rhythm and magnificence and panache that Latinos bring to the sport. That vibe, it type of goes together. So to me, when Charlie was there, I believed, ‘Wow, this can be a funny, perfect marriage of all of those things.’”

In all facets of his life, Montoyo has tried to represent his island, from the sphere to the stage.

“It’s hard to achieve this level,” he said of his job. “I sincerely never expected to achieve it after so a few years. That’s why I even have the Puerto Rican flag on my glove, in every single place. I’m pleased with where I’m from and the music.”

Not long after midnight, with a number of songs left within the second set of his recent visit to Lula Lounge, Montoyo was done. He handed the güiro back to Naar, gave him a hug and said his goodbyes. He didn’t want to go away however the Blue Jays had a 1 p.m. game. He grabbed his jacket and left with the team employees who had come along. He will probably be back.

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