Blue Jays director Charlie Montoyo at Moonlights Salsa Clubs

The salsa team started their first set at the Lula Lounge in 45 minutes last Saturday when Charlie Montoyo appeared in front of the door. A music club owner saw Montoyo and took him and his band to a table closest to the stage.

Montoyo, 56, took off his jacket and nodded to his teammates. Shortly afterwards, Montoyo, the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays — one of the major teams in Major League Baseball — was with the team and was given a güiro, a staple of Latin American music. A smile remained on his face for the next two and a half hours.

“Tonight, we are accompanied by our great Blue Jays manager,” Luis Franco, the lead singer of the band of his name, told the audience in Spanish. Montoyo signaled to join him in front of the stage and continued: “This guy is doing a great job with our team. A shower of applause, please. ‘

Montoyo stepped forward, hugged Franco, smiled, and winked at the people. But he quickly returned to the position he liked: with his bandmates, between instruments.

Baseball may be the driving force behind Montoyo’s life, but music has been the underlying rhythm. His stadium office is full of bongos, congas, timpani, maracas and records. He plays salsa music to relax before games. And sometimes he spends the weekends with the nightclubs with a güiro, a sound-producing instrument, rubbing a stick against an empty squash with an indented pumpkin.

“Jumping into the Charlie scene has been our whole relationship,” Montoyo’s wife, Sam, said in a recent phone interview. “I remember talking to people during our wedding and then being on stage with the group.”

On the field, the Blue Jays are a diverse and vibrant team. After a player makes homers, his teammates go to get a blue jacket, which shows the names of the many countries represented on the team, from Canada to the Dominican Republic to Cuba to South Korea.

Montoyo is their busty leader, even though it took him a long time to get to this point. He spent 18 years managing the Tampa Bay Rays as a minor and training in the majors for four years, finally having the opportunity to manage Toronto in 2019.

He took a promising but rebuilt list and led it to the playoffs in 2020. The Blue Jays won against another post-season appearance last season, but entered 2022 as a popular pre-season World Series selection. By Wednesday, they were 33-23.

In every step of Montoyo, the soundtrack has been salsa.

“It’s been awesome,” Ross Atkins, Blue Jays general manager, said of Montoyo. “His experiences have always been appealing to me, personally. His minor league experiences, his gaming experiences, his cultural experiences. He was the one we expected when he was hired. “

From his small Florida town in Puerto Rico, Montoyo grew up around salsa and baseball. After a four-game stint with the Montreal Expos in 1993 and 1,028 minor games, Montoyo retired and began his coaching career.

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

Unlike his brother, Montoyo never took music classes or joined the school band. Growing up, he learned music organically. At parties, in the tradition of Puerto Rico, which is like Christmas carols at night, he used to play the maracas, güiros or tambourines to the door. At beach rallies, he would see others playing cones and pick them up himself.

Montoyo has a large collection of instruments at its permanent headquarters in Tucson, Ariz. His wife surprised his favorite musician, Herman Olivera, with an autograph and a new office conga set after being hired by Toronto.

Montoyo said that knowing or getting to know some of his musical heroes — such as Roberto Roena, Oscar Hernández, Eddie Palmieri, and Olivera — meant more than getting to know many famous baseball players.

In spring 2019 training, Montoyo hosted a one-on-one performance in Dunedin, Fla., At his Fla. Anthony sang “Aguanile,” the classic salsa of Willie Colón and Héctor Lavoe, and Montoyo handled the bongos. Other members of the Puerto Rican Blue Jays coach joined.

(On the night of Montoyo’s recent visit to the Lula Lounge, he sent Anthony a video of his performance with a text.papito. I love. Give me the day. “)

Montoyo often does jam sessions. He once invited some of the club’s musicians to his office, and they played until 4 p.m. But for the most part, Montoyo is alone, playing music videos hours and hours before he starts playing and watching TV.

“We are in a competitive sport, and his position has been under a lot of pressure and attention since he joined the club,” said Hector Lebron, 44, a Blue Jays player who played for Montoyo. Tampa Bay minor league player. “He uses music to calm down and think.”

Montoyo first performed in 2019 at the Lula Lounge. In May, during pre-match batting practice, he met some of the club’s musicians who had learned about his musical ability through mutual friends. In an interview, local artist Luis “Luisito” Orbegoso said he could tell what Montoyo was talking about and invited him to the club that night. Montoyo came and played, and that’s where their friendship started.

“Every time he’s in Toronto, he calls me to ask,‘ When are we going to play? When are we going to go rumble? ‘”Said 51-year-old Orbegoa, who was born in Peru and moved to Canada when he was 12 years old. “In the winter, out of season, he contacts me and sends me videos. We are pure salsa. ‘

Lula Lounge was one of the most missed things Montoyo lost about Toronto from 2020 to 2021, when Canadian pandemic border cuts forced the Blue Jays to force most home games to be played at Buffalo and Florida’s spring training facilities.

“He has a home here,” said Jose Ortega, a co-owner of Lula Lounge, before he started teaching salsa dance classes at his Toronto apartment in 2000 after growing up in a restaurant and club with him two years later. Jose Nieves. “We almost see him as another teammate.”

Montoyo has played a total of six times in the Lula Lounge, including twice this season after Saturday night’s home games. He often goes with team leaders or coaches, and when he was visiting Arizona he brought his wife, where he stays with his youngest son during the school year. Montoyo was tired on the day of his last visit – the Blues were in the game for 20 consecutive days – but the club is his escape.

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

So, after the Blue Jays won the Houston Astros — who were sent off in the fifth inning for Montoyo for arguing Guerrero’s third blow — he was in the Lula Lounge with Luis Franco Worldwide Salsa.

“We call it a swing,” said 42-year-old Alex Naar, a percussionist who gave Montoyo a güiro and guided him through more modern arrangements. “He has a natural swing for music. She feels it in her heart. He has a rhythm. ”

After the first set, Montoyo took pictures with a few fans. While a DJ played salsa and reggaeton classics, Montoyo stepped onto the empty stage to play congas with the song. And when the team returned to the second set, he joined them.

“Baseball is very Caribbean,” said Ortega, who was born in Ecuador and raised in New York. “He’s from Puerto Rico, Dominican, Venezuelan, and the whole rhythm and style and skill that Latinos bring to the game. That atmosphere goes hand in hand. So to me, when Charlie was there, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a fun and perfect wedding for all these things.’ “

In every aspect of his life, Montoyo has tried to represent his island, from the field to the stage.

“It’s hard to get to that level,” he said of his work. “I never expected it to happen after so many years. That’s why I have the Puerto Rican flag on my glove, everywhere. I’m proud of where I come from and the music. “

Shortly after midnight, with a few songs left in the second set of his recent visit to the Lula Lounge, Montoyo was finished. Naarri returned the hug, gave him a hug, and said goodbye. He didn’t want to leave but the Blues had a game at 1 p.m. He picked up his jacket and went with the team members who attended. He will return.

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