Charlie Montoyo, the baseball manager who has a swing

The salsa band lasted 45 minutes from their first set at the Lula Lounge on a recent Saturday when Charlie Montoyo appeared at the main gate. One of the owners of the music club lives in Montoyo and leads him, with his guests, to a reserved table. It was the one that was closest to the scene.

Montoyo, 56, took off his jacket and greeted the band members he knew. Moments later, Montoyo, the manager of the Toronto Azulejos — one of the most important teams in the Big Baseball Leagues — came with the band and gave him a guitar, a basic instrument of Latin American music. The man was silent for the next two and a half hours.

“This night we will be accompanied by our great manager of the Azulejos,” Luis Franco, the band’s vocalist, told the public in Spanish. He made a signal for Montoyo to stand at the front of the scene and continued: “This man is doing an impeccable job with our team. Please, an applause ”.

Montoyo took a step to the front and hugged Franco, while ringing and greeting the public. But he quickly returned to his preferred position: with the members of the band, between the instruments.

It is possible that baseball is the engine of Montoyo’s life, but the music has a subtle rhythm. Its stadium office is filled with bongs, congas, timbales, maracas and discos. Before the games listen to salsa to relax. And, sometimes, the weekends of the season pass by accompanying the bands in the nightclubs with a guitar, an instrument that produces sound to strike a beat against a muffled drum with muescas.

“Charlie jumping on the scene has been something that has been present in all of our relationships,” Montoyo’s wife, Sam, said in a recent telephone interview. “I remember having a look up during our wedding after talking to the people, and he was on the stage with the band.”

In the field, the Azulejos are a diverse and animated group. After a player makes a match, his teammates carry a blue jacket, in which the names of the countries represented on the team appear, from Canada to the Dominican Republic, passing through Cuba and South Korea.

Montoyo is his bullied leader, although he has spent a lot of time getting to this point. After 18 years of very successful leadership in the minors for the Rays of Tampa Bay and four years as a coach in the majors, you finally have the opportunity to lead Toronto in 2019.

It took charge of a promising but reconstructed team and took it to the eliminators in 2020. The Azulejos survived another post -match victory last season, but started 2022 as a popular World Series pre -season selection. As of Wednesday, his balance was 33-23.

All the while, Montoyo’s soundtrack had the sauce.

“It’s phenomenal,” Azulejos general manager Ross Atkins told Montoyo. “Your experiences have always been attractive to me, personally. His experiences in the minor leagues, his experiences as a player, his cultural experiences. This is exactly what we were expecting from the contract and something else ”.

From the small city of Florida, Puerto Rico, Montoyo turns to salsa and baseball. After a four -game rally with the Montreal Expos in 1993 and 1,028 games in the minor leagues, Montoyo retired and began his career as a coach.

“I always want to be a shooter,” he said at his Rogers Center office in Toronto. “I never thought it would be different to be a musician. Little by little, followed by touching. And I love the sauce. But now yes, I would like to be a musician ”.

Unlike his brothers, Montoyo never assisted in music classes nor joined the school band. Growing up, he learned music in an intuitive way. In the parrandas, a Puerto Rican tradition that is like singing villancicos at night, helping to beat the maracas, the güiro or the tambourine while iban from door to door. At meetings on the beach, he observed how others hit the congas and then he snatched them.

Montoyo has a large collection of instruments at his permanent residence in Tucson, Arizona, and at his Rogers Center office, which also has a sanctuary dedicated to Puerto Rico and salsa. His wife surprised him with an autograph of his favorite musician, Herman Olivera, and a new congas game for the office after being contracted by Toronto.

Montoyo says that getting to know some of his musical heroes — like Roberto Roena, Oscar Hernández, Eddie Palmieri and Olivera — meant getting to know many famous baseball players better.

During spring 2019 rehearsals, Montoyo hosted an improvised performance at his Dunedin, Florida office, with singer Marc Anthony, whose entertainment company owns a baseball agency that represents the Azulejos’ first star base, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Anthony sang “Aguanile,” the salsa classic by Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe, while Montoyo touched the bongos. Other members of the technical body of the Azulejos of Puerto Rico gathered at the party.

(The night at the Lula Lounge, Montoyo sent Anthony a video of his performance. “Wepa,” Anthony replied in Spanish. “What a swing, papito. I love it. Made my day”).

Montoyo organizes improvisation sessions on a regular basis. Once he invited several club musicians to his office, and played until 4:00 am But most of the time, Montoyo is alone, watching musical videos on television hours before a party and touching.

“We are in a competitive sport and the position that he has had a lot of pressure and attention since entering clubhouse”Said Hector Lebron, 44, an Azulejos interpreter who played for Montoyo in the Tampa Bay minor leagues. “He used the music to relax a little and to think.”

Montoyo touched for the first time at the Lula Lounge in 2019. During the bateo practice before the game in May, he met some of the club’s musicians who had heard about his musical ability through close friends. In his conversation, Luis “Luisito” Orbegoso, a well -known local artist, said it was rumored that Montoyo knew what he was talking about and invited him to the club that night. Montoyo listened and touched, and so his friendship began.

“Whenever he was in Toronto, he called me and said: ‘When are we going to hit? When are we going to return? ‘”Said Orbegoso, 51, who was born in Peru and moved to Canada at 12. “Even in hell, the offseason, contact me and send me videos. We are pure salsa ”.

The Lula Lounge was one of the things Montoyo left behind in Toronto between 2020 and 2021, when Canada’s pandemic border restrictions forced the Azulejos to play most of their home games in Búfalo and their spring training facilities in Florida .

“He has a house here,” said José Ortega, a co -owner of Lula Lounge who began organizing salsa dance classes at his Toronto apartment in 2000 before it grew two years later to turn into a restaurant and the club that is copropietario with José Nieves. We almost see him as a member of the band. ”

Montoyo has been to the Lula Lounge six times in total, including two times this season after the games at home on Saturdays in the afternoon. In addition, he went with the instructions or the trainers of the team and took him to his wife when he was visiting from Arizona, where he stayed during the school year with his minor son. Montoyo had missed the day of his most recent visit — the Azulejos were in the middle of a tram 20 days after games — but the club is his escape.

“If Sam knows it’s Saturday and we’ve missed a difficult party and I’m alone in the apartment, he tells me to go there and enjoy,” Montoyo said.

So after the Azulejos beat the Houston Astros — a party from which Montoyo was expelled in the fifth round for discussing a third strike at Guerrero — it was at the Lula Lounge with the band Luis Franco Worldwide Salsa.

“We have the tenth swing,” said Alex Naar, 42, percussionist in the band who gave Montoyo a güiro and guio in the most modern arrangements. “It has a natural swing of the music. He feels it in the heart. He has the rhythm ”.

After the first set, Montoyo posed for photos with some fans. While a DJ played classic salsa and reguetion, Montoyo approached the empty stage to beat the congas to the rhythm of the song. And when the band returned for its second set, they united.

“Baseball is very Caribbean,” said Ortega, who was born in Ecuador and lives in New York. “He is Puerto Rican, he is Dominican, he is Venezuelan, and all the rhythm and style and pride that Latinos bring to the game. It’s an atmosphere, as if it goes from hand to hand. So for me, when Charlie was there, I thought: ‘Come on, this is a fun and perfect union of all those things’ ”.

In all aspects of his life, Montoyo has managed to represent his island, from diamond to stage.

“It’s hard to get to this level,” he said of his work. “I didn’t expect to get here, sincerely, after so many years. That’s why I have the flag of Puerto Rico in my hand, for all sides. I am proud of where I am and of the music ”.

Shortly after noon, when they left a few songs in the second set of his recent visit to Lula Lounge, Montoyo ended. He turned his back on Naar, gave her a hug and dismissed her. I didn’t want to go, but the Azulejos had a party at 1:00 pm He took off his jacket and went with the staff members who had come. But it will come back.

James Wagner has covered baseball — the Mets for two and a half years now the Yankees — for The New York Times since June 2016. He previously worked at The Washington Post for six years and covered the Washington Nationals. @ByJamesWagner• Facebook

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