baseball

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoya moonlights at salsa clubs

The salsa band appeared at the front door of Charlie Montoyo in 45 minutes on their first set at the Lula Lounge on Saturday. The owner of the music club spotted Montoyo and took him and his group to the table reserved for them.

Montoyo, 56, took off his jacket and shook hands with the band members he knew. Moments later, the manager of one of Major League Baseball’s top teams, the Toronto Blue Jays, arrived with the band Monteo and handed over the gyro, a staple of Latin American music. The smile remained on his face for the next two and a half hours.

“Tonight, we’re with our great manager of the Blue Jays,” Luis Franco, lead singer of his self-titled band, told the crowd in Spanglish. He suggested Montoya join him in front of the stage and continued, “This guy is doing an impeccable job with our team. A round of applause, please. ”

Montoya stepped forward, hugging Franco, smiling and waving his hand to the crowd. But he quickly returned to his preferred position: with band members, between instruments.

Baseball may be Montoyo’s driving force, but music is the underlying beat. His stadium office is cluttered with bongos, congas, timbales, maracas and records. They play salsa music to relax before games. And sometimes, he spends weekends with gyro in bands at night clubs, producing a sound by rubbing a stick with a notched hollow gourd.

“Charlie’s jumping on stage is our whole relationship thing,” Montoyo’s wife, Sam, said in a recent phone interview. “I remember looking up at our wedding after talking to people and they were on stage with the band.”

On the field, the Blue Jays are a diverse and vibrant group. After player homers, his teammates rush to get a blue jacket featuring the names of many countries represented in the team, from Canada to the Dominican Republic to Cuba to South Korea.

Montoyo’s a flamboyant hero, though he took a long time to reach this point. After 18 successful years in the minors for the Tampa Bay Rays and four years of training in the majors, he finally got the chance to manage Toronto in 2019.

He took over a promising but rebuilt roster and guided it to the playoffs in 2020. The Blue Jays lost one win last season to another postseason appearance but entered the popular preseason World Series pick in 2022. By Wednesday, he was 33-23.

The soundtrack is salsa at every step for Montoya.

“They’re amazing,” Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said of Montoya. “Their experiences have always been fascinating to me personally. Their minor league experiences, their playing experiences, their cultural experiences. He was exactly what we expected him to be and then some.

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

“I’ve always wanted to be a baseball player,” he said in his office at the Rogers Center in Toronto. “I never thought I would be a musician. But a little bit, I played more. And I love salsa. But now, yeah, I like to be a musician.

Like his brothers, Montoya never took music classes or joined a school band. Growing up, he learned music organically. In the Puerto Rican tradition of Christmas caroling at night, he helped play maracas, gyro or tambourine when he went home. At beach gatherings, he watched others playing congas and picked it up himself.

Montoyo has a large collection of instruments at his permanent residence in Tucson, Ariz., And his office at the Rogers Center, which houses parts of Puerto Rico and Salsa. After hiring from Toronto, his favorite musician, Herman Oliveira, and his wife surprised him with a new Congressional handwriting.

Montoya said that meeting or getting to know some music heroes like Roberto Rona, Oscar Hernandez, Eddie Palmieri and Oliveira is more than just meeting many famous baseball players.

During spring training in 2019, Montoya hosted an impromptu performance at his concert with Dunedin, Fla., Singer Mark Anthony, whose entertainment company owns a baseball agency sung by Blue Jays star first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Anthony Montoyo handled the bongos. Other members of the Blue Jays coaching staff from Puerto Rico joined.

(On the night of Montoyo’s recent visit to Lula Lounge, he sent Anthony a video of his performance. “Wow,” Anthony wrote back.Papito. I love it. My day is over. ”)

Montoyo often hosts jam sessions. He once invited some musicians from the club to his concert, and he played at 4 am but most of the time, Montoyo stayed by himself, cueing and playing music videos on TV hours before the game.

“We are in a competitive sport and from the moment they walk into the clubhouse, their position comes with a lot of pressure and attention,” said Hector LeBron, 44, an interpreter for the Blue Jays, who played for Montoya. Tampa Bay Minor League. “They use the music to relax and think.”

Montoya played for the first time in 2019 at the Lula Lounge. During a pregame batting practice in May, he met some of the club’s musicians, who asked about their musical potential through mutual friends. In his conversation, renowned local artist Luis “Luisito” Orbegoso said he knew what Montoya was talking about and invited him to the club that night. Montoya came and played, and that started their friendship.

“Whenever they are in Toronto, they call me to ask, ‘When are we going to play? When are we going?’ Rambier? ‘”Arbegoso, 51, was born in Peru and moved to Canada when he was 12 years old. “In the winter, including the off-season, they contact me and send me videos. We are pure salsa.

Lula Lounge was among the things that Montoya missed in Toronto from 2020 to 2021, when Canadian epidemic border restrictions forced the Blue Jays to play most of their home games in Buffalo and their spring-training facility in Florida.

Jose Ortega, co-owner of Lula Lounge, which began hosting salsa dance lessons in his apartment in Toronto in 2000, grew to a permanent restaurant and club he co-owned two years later. Jose Neeves. “We see them as almost a band member.”

Montoyo has played in the Lula Lounge a total of six times, including twice this season since Saturday afternoon’s home games. He would often go with team officials or coaches and bring his wife on a visit from Arizona, where she would stay with their youngest son during the school year. Montoya was tired on the day of his recent visit – the Blue Jays were in the middle of 20 straight days of games – but the club was his escape.

“If Sam knew it was Saturday and we were losing a tough game and I was alone in the apartment, she would tell me to go out there and have fun,” Montoya said.

So after the Blue Jays defeated the Houston Astros – in the fifth inning, Montoya was dismissed for arguing for a third strike for Guerrero – he was in the Lula Lounge with the Luis Franco Worldwide Salsa Band.

“We call it the swing,” Alex Knorr, 42, the band’s percussionist, gave the gyro to Montoyo and guided him through more modern arrangements. “He has a natural swing to music. He feels it in his heart. He has rhythm.”

After the first set, Montoya posed for photos with some fans. As DJ Salsa and Reggaeton played the classics, Montoya headed to the empty stage to play the congas with the song. And when the band returned to their second set, they rejoined them.

“Baseball is very Caribbean,” said Ortega, who was born in Ecuador and raised in New York. “It’s Puerto Rican. It’s the whole rhythm and style and panache that the Dominican, Venezuela, and Latino bring to the game. That vibe, it kind of goes together. So for me, when Charlie was there, I thought, ‘Wow, this is the funniest, perfect wedding of all things.’

In all aspects of his life, Montoya has tried to represent his island from field to stage.

“It’s hard to reach this level,” he said of his work. “After all these years, I honestly couldn’t wait to reach it. That’s why I have a Puerto Rican flag everywhere on my gloves. I’m proud of where I came from and the music.

Shortly after midnight, a few songs remain on the second set of their recent visit to Lula Lounge, Montoya is over. He took the gyro back to Knorr, hugged him and said goodbye. He didn’t want to leave but the Blue Jays had the game at 1pm. He walked out with his teammates who were holding his jacket. He’ll be back.

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