Charlie Montoyo’s path to become a Major League manager has included more than its fair share of twists and turns along the way.
After his playing days ended in the fall of 1996, the former Bakersfield Blaze skipper made stops at every level during an 18-year career managing in the minor leagues before becoming a coach with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2015.
His travels led him to places like Princeton, W. Va., Hudson Valley, N.Y., Charleston, S.C., Orlando, Fla., Montgomery, Ala., and Durham, N.C., before his efforts paid off last year when he was hired to manage a young, but talented Toronto Blue Jays squad.
It’s been quite a ride for Montoyo, but one he hopes will continue for years to come. It’s also a journey that he only recently has been able to appreciate while spending time away from the game during the current MLB work stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m able to now,” said Montoyo, who was 67-95 in his first year with the Blue Jays. “Because when you get the job you just go and go and there’s no time to stop and reflect. Going through the season is a grind. And during the offseason you don’t really have one because you have to do this and you have to do that. So during this time it’s given me time to reflect on everything that I have done.”
It’s a far cry from his two-year stint in Bakersfield where he and pitching coach Marty DeMerritt slept in their respective offices in the team’s clubhouse to save money during the 2002 season.
“From sleeping in the clubhouse in Bakersfield did I ever think I’d be managing in the big leagues? ‘No,’ ” said Montoyo, who had a .525 winning percentage in more than 2,500 career games as a minor league manager. “But I was always that guy that was never worried about (the next job), I was thinking about my job in hand. Be the best Single-A manager I could be or whatever. When I got to Double-A it was the same way. Because I’ve seen so many coaches through the years that are so worried about moving up and stuff, they forget the job at hand. I didn’t want to be that guy.”
Staying in the present back then in Bakersfield also meant doing his share of walking, since Montoyo did not have a car. That led to nightly walks to the nearby FoodMaxx for groceries or a stop by the Jack In The Box across the street while DeMerritt provided laundry and general clubhouse cleaning duties.
“I remember I had a blow-up mattress in my office,” Montoyo said. “I’d take the air out so when the players come in they don’t see it. So I’d have to be up early on so when guys come in (they wouldn’t see it). I was pretty good at hiding it."
During his first year in Bakersfield, Montoyo’s responsibilities with the team became secondary late in the season — much like they are today with the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Sept. 10, 2001, the Blaze suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to the San Jose Giants in Game 3 of the California League semifinals at Sam Lynn Ballpark. The winning runs were scored on a two-run home run by San Jose’s Edwin Maldonado in the top of the ninth inning, erasing a go-ahead homer by Blaze star and future Major Leaguer Matt Diaz the inning before. It gave the Giants a 2-1 lead in the best-of-five series.
The following morning, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shook the world to its core, and the season was canceled with San Jose and Lake Elsinore being declared co-champions.
Now the season is interrupted again, which has served as an important reminder to Montoyo.
“You know what I know for sure? That I don’t have any control of what’s going on,” said Montoyo, who married his wife, Samantha, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. “So I do the only thing I can do, like right now we’re communicating with our coaches and players, and that’s the only thing we have control of. A lot of Zoom calls, and we’re trying to get ready for spring training. It’s going to be a different spring training. Nobody’s ever done this before. I’m ready to go whenever they decide to play.”
It was a similar work stoppage that led Montoyo to pursue a managing career.
After going 2 for 5 with three RBIs — including a single in his first MLB at-bat —in a brief stint with the Montreal Expos at the end of the 1993 season, his opportunities to return to the big leagues were hurt when the players decided to strike late in 1994, the start of a 232-day stoppage that forced the cancellation of the World Series.
When the dust settled, Montoyo was set on a new career path, one that has led him all across the country as a manager. He finally made it to the MLB when he replaced Tom Foley as the third base coach for the Rays. Ironically, Foley was the director of the Tampa Bay farm system and was responsible for hiring Montoyo for his first managerial job in 1997.
Montoyo's latest stop has him in a familiar situation — working with young stars. In 2002, his opening-day outfield in Bakersfield featured future MLB stars Josh Hamilton in right, Rocco Baldelli in center and Jonny Gomes in left.
“At heart, I believe Charlie is a man of player development, who believes in building something and identifying ability and talent, and strengths, and feeding those things, and putting guys in a great spot with confidence to go out there and succeed,” said Baldelli, the 2019 American League manager of the year after leading the Minnesota Twins to a 101-61 record. “I think he’s in a perfect spot. I think the Blue Jays have the perfect man to do that. He’s watched it at every level of the game.”
Once play resumes, that means tutoring the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette, all sons of former MLB players, who combined for 42 home runs and 138 RBIs with Toronto last year after being called up during the season.
“He has a group in Toronto that can do a lot of different things,” said Baldelli, who considers Montoyo one of his best friends. “And I don’t think it’s going to be very long before those players take the next step in their career, and then of course, Charlie knows where to go from there.”
DeMerritt, who considers Montoyo more like a brother, couldn’t agree more. He saw the players develop firsthand when he worked with Montoyo in Bakersfield.
“Those kids were obviously so talented, and some of them were not too far removed from high school,” said DeMerritt, who continues to work with lower-level pitchers in the Tampa Bay Rays organization. “They needed to be taught what this game offers, and also the intangibles that go with it. And Charlie was the perfect guy for it.
“I can remember several times that I would go into his office and there would be a Baldelli in there talking about the ins and outs of baserunning or stealing. There was just an incredible amount of extra work done.”
Although Montoyo has learned plenty about baseball during his time around the game, what he’s learned about treating people may be just as important, and that extends from the field to his team’s staff.
“I love Charlie,” said Jack Patton, a longtime general manager with the Bakersfield Blaze. “You never know what kind of manager you’re going to get, because they change so often, but I was lucky to have him for a couple of years. Sometimes you get managers you can work with, sometimes you get ones that you battle with. He was easy-going, he was professional and you could tell he had the makings of a Major League manager. The way that he handled his players, and then you take a look at how well he did after he left here.”
Longtime Blaze official scorer Tim Wheeler also has fond memories of Montoyo’s time in Bakersfield.
“Charlie and Marty would talk baseball with me after the game,” said Wheeler, who scored 1,439 consecutive games at Sam Lynn Ballpark during one stretch. “After the players had left, after I dropped off the stats … they gave me access to scenes behind minor league baseball and aspects of minor league baseball that unless you work for an organization, the common person is not going to see. They trusted me. They were both giving me an education that was priceless as far as how a Major League club operates all the way through the minor league system. When Charlie was here, I felt like I was getting a college education from an Ivy League school.”
Coming to America
After being recruited to play baseball at DeAnza College in San Jose from his native Puerto Rico, Montoyo didn’t speak any English when he arrived in the United States.
His challenges started early after arriving, shortly after being picked up from the airport and being dropped off with a host family that did not speak Spanish. He remembers being hungry and not knowing how to communicate with them so he decided to go for a walk to find some food. He wound up getting lost and wandering through the streets of San Jose before finally being found and brought back to his new home three hours later.
“I remember my coach picking me up from the airport and I had no idea what he was telling me, I mean nothing,” said Montoyo, who transferred to Louisiana Tech following his freshman season. “There’s so many times when you want to say, ‘no, I don’t want to do this, it’s too much.’ And you have those times when you cry.”
After what turned out to be a Hall of Fame career at Louisiana Tech, Montoyo was drafted as a second baseman by the Milwaukee Brewers in the sixth round of the 1987 MLB Draft and later traded to the Expos organization as part of a 10-year minor league career.
As it all turned out, overcoming those obstacles served as preparation for an even greater challenge for Montoyo, whose 12-year-old son Alexander was born with a heart defect which required four surgeries to stabilize him. During that time, Montoyo and his family, which includes 17-year-old son Tyson, spent nearly five months living in an apartment near UCLA Medical Center while doctors looked to save their newest addition to the family.
“That made me a better man and a better manager because I know things can be worse,” Montoyo said. “That’s my line I always use. ‘It could be worse.’”
The experience also has helped Montoyo appreciate his current situation, which has him home this time of year for the first time in as long as he can remember.
“I never have been home, even as a player, not in June for sure,” Montoyo said. “Not in Puerto Rico, not here. Not anywhere. I’m always at a ballpark somewhere.
“But I’m enjoying my time with my family. It was almost like a timeout, ‘ok, hold on.’ I’m able to reflect on how lucky I am. I’m managing a big league team with a bunch of prospects that could be really good someday. You know, that’s fun for me. So I’m fine. I’m very lucky.”