NIÑO DE ORO
By Stephen Brunt in Puerto Rico, Arizona and Florida
NIÑO DE ORO
By Stephen Brunt in Puerto Rico, Arizona and Florida
Charlie Montoyo began his life in baseball as a golden child. He's back on top now as manager of the Blue Jays, but had to go through hell and grind out every opportunity to get there.

The flight touches down just after midnight.

It is quiet at San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, where you can still see signs torn asunder when Hurricane Maria roared across the island a little more than a year ago. Outside the arrivals area in the steamy night air, a crowd has assembled, maybe a hundred people in all; a salsa band; a group holding a huge banner; some wearing Toronto Blue Jays gear; many others carrying the flag of Puerto Rico and the red-white-and-green tricolour that is the banner of the town of Florida, a tiny, landlocked nondescript place a little over an hour distant that is obscure even to residents of other parts of the island, but that right here, right now, for these people, is the most important place on earth.

Charlie Montoyo, who is about to pick up his suitcase from the baggage carousel and then be surprised by the mob gathered in his honour, has just been named the Jays’ new manager, becoming only the third Puerto Rican native to reach that plateau in Major League Baseball’s long history. That’s a big deal in a place that lives and breathes the game more than just about anywhere outside of the Dominican Republic. That’s also an indictment of a sport that has been dragged, kicking and screaming, into providing equal opportunities on and off the field.

But tonight, making history is only a part of what this party is about, and it has nothing to do with why, in Florida, Montoyo is known, universally, as the Niño de Oro — the Golden Child.

Finally, the man of the hour arrives, descending an escalator, and the band kicks into a chorus of “Olé, Olé, Olé”. For the better part of the next hour, the music never stops, and Montoyo ends up in the middle of the singing, dancing throng. Someone hands him a guiro, and being a talented percussionist, he knows what to do with it. The handshakes and bear hugs continue, and then, en masse, the group hits the road, back to Florida, to extend the party deep into the wee hours.

He was a kid like other kids in town — not rich, certainly, but not exactly poor. He lived with his parents, Nydia and Felix, his two brothers and his sister in a tiny house down a laneway from the Parque Norberto Montoyo, a dirt diamond named for his father’s brother, who was killed while serving in the Vietnam War. There’s a fancier stadium now on the outskirts of town, but back in the day this modest field was the home of Los Titanes de Florida, the town’s standard-bearers in Puerto Rico’s Doble-A league. That’s a different thing than professional, minor-league double-A, and also a different thing than Puerto Rican winter ball, where big leaguers and others come to hone their craft and make a few extra dollars in the off-season. Doble-A is a pure, local expression of the game, featuring the best domestic talent representing places large and small. The league’s motto tells the story: Aquí jugamos duro para formar un mejor ciudadano — “We play hard here to make better citizens.”

No town with a team is smaller than Florida, and so Los Titanes, though loved passionately by everyone here, have forever been underdogs.

In 1982, they made their one, magical run to a championship, led by a 16-year-old second baseman who would be hailed then and forever after as the greatest baseball player the town had ever produced. Think Hoosiers with palm trees, complete with a fairy-tale finish. There is a tape of the radio call of that final game, the announcer’s voice high and loud and cracking with emotion, and hearing it, you wish you were there, you wish you were one of them, you wish you could feel what it must have felt like to be a child of Florida that day.

It was one of those announcers who first called him Niño de Oro. The nickname stuck.

FLORIDA'S MAN
Though it's his uncle's name on the old local diamond, Montoyo is the one that dominates baseball lore in Florida.

That moment immortalized Montoyo in his hometown. Becoming a big-league player — albeit ever-so-briefly — and then a big-league manager, was really just the icing on the cake.

For Montoyo’s return, the streets are decorated with signs and banners bearing his likeness. The little house where his parents live now, a mile or so from the centre of town, has its own poster on the front wall, and has become a pilgrimage site this weekend, as friends and local dignitaries drop by to pay their respects, to see the photos and trophies inside that are arranged as a shrine to Niño de Oro, to swap stories about the good old days and get ready for the parade that will cap off what has been officially declared Charlie Montoyo Day.

Montoyo’s playing career took an unusual tack following the glories of 1982. An American businessman named Don Odermann had set up a foundation to find scholarships for Latin-American ballplayers with the potential to go to college, an alternative to the usual professional route. (Among his other protégés was José Bautista, who went from the Dominican Republic to Chipola College in Florida.) Odermann spotted Montoyo when he was playing for the Puerto Rican Olympic team at a tournament in Venezuela. Offered the chance to attend De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif., Montoyo jumped at it. He had only been to the continental United States once before in his life — a trip to New York with the champion Titanes, when he was surrounded by the local Puerto Rican community. In the fall of 1984, he got on a plane for San Jose, speaking not a word of English, and headed into the unknown.

“When my coach picked me up at the airport, I had no idea what he was telling me,” Montoyo remembers. “They’ve got me living with this family that didn’t speak any Spanish. They knew I didn’t speak any English but they were trying to help me out in any way they could [and] they became my family.”

On his first day in California, left on his own for a few hours, hungry, and puzzled by his new surroundings, he wandered off in search of McDonald’s. His host family finally found him much later, wandering along the side of a road.

Montoyo soon enough picked up the language through conversation — and by watching Atlanta Braves games and The Honeymooners reruns on TBS. After a year in California, he moved on to Louisiana Tech University on a full-ride scholarship, a school with a significant athletic pedigree that produced Karl Malone, Terry Bradshaw, and a quarterback who went north to find his destiny named Matt Dunigan.

Understanding the local Cajun patois was an entirely different challenge, but nonetheless Montoyo thrived, and though he was first drafted as a junior, he opted to remain for his senior year. (Montoyo would eventually return to be inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.) He re-entered the draft, the Milwaukee Brewers selected him in the sixth round, and his professional baseball odyssey began.

By the time his childhood dreams were realized, Montoyo was already pretty much past them, had already become one of those players who plateaus in the minor leagues, who will be employed as organizational depth until he finally calls it quits. It was 1993, and he was playing in triple-A during the inaugural season of the Ottawa Lynx, then the top farm team in the Montreal Expos’ system. “They were drawing, like, 10,000 fans a game, and I had had a pretty good year,” Montoyo says. “Here comes the first game of the playoffs and all of a sudden I’m not in the lineup.”

He wasn’t happy about it. The next day, the team’s manager, Mike Quade, asked him, “Do you want to play tonight?”

“I don’t know why I didn’t play last night,” Montoyo said.

“No,” Quade said. “You’re going to play for the Expos. Go and get your stuff.”

STAY GOLD
A parade in Florida capped off what was officially declared Charlie Montoyo Day.

Montoyo rented a car, got lost on the way, stopped at a service station to ask for directions only to find out that the staff spoke only French, finally rolled into the Stade Olympique at seven o’clock — 10 minutes before the first pitch — found his uniform in his locker, dressed, hurried to the dugout, and introduced himself to manager Felipe Alou. Then, in the bottom of the eighth, he was told that if the visiting Colorado Rockies brought in a lefty, he was going to be sent in to pinch hit.

They did. Montoyo’s name was announced. He singled, knocked in the go-ahead run, and then was sent out to play the field in the top of the ninth, a little bit terrified that the ball would be hit his way. The Rockies were mowed down in order without incident, and Charlie Montoyo from Florida was a big-league ballplayer.

The ball he hit that night is now preserved with the rest of the sacred Niño de Oro memorabilia at his parent’s house back home.

And… well, that was just about it. He appeared in three more games over 22 days, had a total of five at-bats. He registered one more hit — a double that drove in two more runs. Then he was sent down, and to the big leagues he never returned — at least as a player.

His career batting average is forever fixed at .400.

“Nobody can take that away from me,” Montoyo says. “As a Little League player, that was my goal, to make it to the big leagues.”

The parade is supposed to start at one in the afternoon, but let’s just say that life in Puerto Rico is not a slave to the clock. Things start moving around three, at the height of the midday heat. Montoyo, his parents and his sister, Wanda, climb onto the back of a souped-up pickup truck. A larger vehicle, a kind of flatbed with a canopy roof, will eventually fill with friends and extended family and hangers-on and a couple of teams’ worth of kid ballplayers thrilled to be along for the ride. The third vehicle is really just a boombox on wheels, pounding out salsa nonstop.

When Montoyo was a boy, there were only six or seven thousand people living in Florida. Now, there are twice that number. But even given the population explosion, it’s hard to explain why it takes the better part of four hours for the tiny parade to wind its way through town before finally arriving at its final destination, the lovely, Spanish-style central square. Crowds have lined the entire long, meandering route, and a large gathering has assembled for the grand finale. As twilight takes hold, there are many, many speeches — from politicians, from businesspeople, from a host of the locally famous. No words are spared for the sake of brevity, and Montoyo’s parents receive enough fruit baskets to stave off scurvy for the foreseeable future.

Darkness has fully fallen when the Nino de Oro finally walks to the mic. He looks out over the crowd, over his friends and family and neighbours, over his hometown, and his smile is a mile wide.

“People here are so proud,” Montoyo says later. “And I’m proud to be from Florida, Puerto Rico. All of these guys you saw here, all of the people you saw at the airport, they are the same people who took me to the airport 30-something years ago to go to the States for the first time. That’s how close we are here.”

Charlie Montoyo missed the birth of his second son, but everyone agreed that was for the best.

The first time around, when his eldest child, Tyson, was born, Montoyo fainted while his wife, Samantha, was receiving an epidural. He didn’t make it to the delivery. So when Samantha went into the last stages of labour on what also happened to be Montoyo’s birthday, he headed for McDonald’s with four-year-old Tyson in tow, and waited for the good news. The call came, the baby had arrived, and when he was reunited with his wife and newborn son, Alex, in the maternity ward, all seemed well. “I got back and the baby is there and everything was fine,” Montoyo says. “Then all of a sudden they took him…”

“A nurse came in and said, ‘We put your baby in an oxygen tent and called a cardiologist,’” Samantha says. “And then she left.”

The course of all of their lives had just changed forever.

Montoyo met the former Samantha Startt when he was managing the Charleston RiverDogs of the A-level South Atlantic League. She was working as the team’s promotional director then, and though intra-organizational fraternization was discouraged, there was instant chemistry and nature would not be denied.

“Charlie is very kind,” Samantha says. “He’s probably the kindest person I have ever met in my life. Everybody likes him. He’s very funny. And he’s just very engaged. If he’s with you, he talks to you, he wants to know about you. He’s very interested in other people…

“He’s just a good person. We balance each other out — he’s the nice, kind one and I’m the bulldozer who goes around and says we’re going to do it my way.”

When they decided to start a life together, there were hard decisions to be made, because working in baseball, especially minor-league baseball, isn’t like any other job. The season extends from the beginning of spring training in February to the playoffs in early autumn. Half of the regular-season games at every level are played on the road. “I could tell Samantha was a strong woman from the beginning,” Montoyo says. “In my job, that’s what you need because you’re never home. I knew if I was going to be gone, she could deal with it. And I was right.”

In the minors, job security is based on your win-loss record and on the more amorphous notion of player development, with a roster that is constantly in flux as talent moves up-and-down in the system. Even successful coaches and managers rarely stay in one place for too long. Promotions sometimes are based on merit, but sometimes on the cronyism that is endemic to the sport — so you’d better be liked by the people making decisions. The pay isn’t great, though there is always the carrot that someday you might ascend to the wealth and comfort of the big leagues.

Montoyo and Samantha briefly thought about setting up their family home where he worked — at the time, the Tampa area, where he was going to be managing the Rays’ double-A club in nearby Orlando. But two weeks after they bought a house they found out the team was about to be moved to Montgomery, Ala. That clinched it. They’d settle in Tucson, where Samantha had roots and had attended university. Montoyo would leave in the spring, come back in the fall, and get home as often as he could, and Samantha and the kids could visit during the summer. “We’ve been married for over 17 years but if you add the time up, we’ve probably only been married for five years,” Samantha says now. “But in baseball [where a lot of marriages don’t last], 17 years is also like a hundred years. It’s a long time.”

It’s no small irony that Montoyo eventually wound up staying in one place — Durham, N.C., where he managed the Rays’ triple-A farm team, the Bulls — for eight seasons. But the trade-off had already been made.

The hot-headed Montoyo from those early managerial years wouldn’t be recognizable to someone who encounters him now. “He had some meltdowns where he threw everything out of the dugout,” Samantha remembers. “I watched him tear the lineup card up. I’ve seen other coaches have to hold him back. In Bakersfield one time, I saw him go into the other dugout after someone on the other team.” And there was that time in Montgomery on the field after a game when Montoyo had to put Tyson down so he could continue screaming at the umpires.

With Alex’s arrival, that Montoyo disappeared, forever. “Supporting your team is always important, but it changes your perspective,” Samantha says. “Not everything is as important as what you just survived…. There were pictures in his office of Alex looking great and Alex looking bad, with tubes and the whole thing. I think when you look at those every day, there’s a difference between someone who could die at a moment’s notice and a baseball game. It has to change you. It just does.”

Those first hours at the hospital were a blur. A cardiologist arrived and explained that Alex had been born with Ebstein’s anomaly, a congenital heart defect in the valve that separates the right atrium from the right ventricle. He drew them a picture of Alex’s malformed heart, but assured them that everything would be okay.

It wasn’t okay. Alex’s blood-oxygen levels kept dropping precariously. The decision was made to airlift him to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, which was better equipped to deal with a neonatal cardiac emergency. They put him on a medivac helicopter. Samantha and Montoyo remained behind. “We didn’t think he was going to make it,” Montoyo says.

Some weeks later, Samantha noticed a binder of Alex’s medical records sitting on a table in the hospital, with post-it notes attached. With no one around to tell her she couldn’t or shouldn’t look, she opened it — “I’m nosy,” she says. One of the notes read: “Not expected to survive trip.”

“It was not even in code,” Samantha says.

Five hours after giving birth, the minimum time allowable that would still leave her insurance coverage intact, Samantha discharged herself from hospital. Montoyo fortified himself with coffee and Red Bull, and then they began the drive to Phoenix, not knowing if they would arrive to find their baby alive or dead.

It has been a long journey for all of them, for Montoyo and Samantha, for Tyson, whose own childhood took an unexpected detour that day, and, of course, for Alex.

There have been multiple open-heart surgeries — the first in Phoenix four days after Alex’s birth — and many close calls. They were in Phoenix for a month before the doctors there said there was nothing more they could do, that Alex’s best hope was a transplant, and the best place for that was at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. That meant another medivac flight. This time Samantha went along with Alex, while Montoyo made the six-hour drive through the desert on his own — they both missed Tyson’s fifth birthday.

Stephen Brunt and Jeff Blair combine 70-plus years in journalism with interviews and analysis to tell deeper stories about the sports you love.

Listen and subscribe for free

There were also practical considerations. They weren’t living at home anymore. There were no accommodations for patients’ families near the hospital. A furnished apartment in the area cost $4,500 a month. Samantha found help from the Baseball Assistance Team — an organization formed by players, for players, that provides confidential financial help in times of crisis. But the medical bills kept piling up.

“I knew one thing,” Montoyo says. “I had to keep working for the insurance.”

“At that point, it wasn’t about going to the big leagues,” Samantha says. “It was like, ‘Don’t piss anybody off. Don’t make them mad. Don’t alienate anybody. Keep the insurance.’ It was all about the insurance.”

Montoyo returned to work in Durham, and Samantha was left to cope on her own. During the minor-league season, teams enjoy a single off-day a month. Each time, Montoyo flew to California or Arizona. “I would leave at six in the morning from Durham,” he says. “Get here like nine or 10 in the morning, spend the whole day and leave the next day at five in morning to make the game the next night. I had to do that so I could see him.”

He missed his first game in 16 years when Alex underwent stomach surgery, flying west, spending 48 hours at the hospital without sleeping, then catching the first flight back to Durham.

THE BEAT OF HIS OWN DRUM
Just the third Puerto Rican to manage in MLB, Montoyo had to grind for every opportunity and maintain a firm belief in himself.

The decision was made to forego a transplant (though it remains an option later in life), but Alex’s health remained precarious. It would be two years before he was allowed to travel by air. And there were other, indirect consequences of his heart problems. He suffers from a mild form of cerebral palsy because of the oxygen deprivation. He has a paralyzed vocal cord because nerves in the area had to be moved during one of his surgeries. His diaphragm is also partially paralyzed because of nerve damage. Having spent so much of his early life on a ventilator, Alex didn’t make a sound for eight months.

Eating was a particular challenge. “He was afraid of anything near his mouth,” Samantha says. “And anything in his mouth he aspirated because the vocal cord was paralyzed.” Nutrition came through a feeding tube in his stomach.

Alex didn’t eat solid food until he was three years old — a moment Samantha vividly remembers. They were visiting Durham during one of Tyson’s school holidays, and went to a local pizza restaurant for lunch. “If you ordered Alex food, he was afraid of it. If you put food near him, he would gag,” she says. The most he would do was lick the orange powder off a cheezie, or the salt off a potato chip. “But I always gave him food so he felt like he was part of it,” Samantha continues. “He had a piece of pizza in front of him and he started to eat the pizza. It took three hours for him to eat a tiny piece. But everybody sat there and waited. It was like, ‘Don’t look…. He’s eating the pizza.’”

A year after that, Alex’s feeding tube was finally removed.

Alex Montoyo is 11 years old now. He is a bright, charming kid who is passionate about baseball. (Tyson, by contrast, puts all of his sports energy into field lacrosse.) During one Grapefruit League game this spring, Charlie brought in 18-year-old Rule 5 draft pick Elvis Luciano to pitch in a close game, and it did not go well. Alex immediately got in touch to question the managerial move.

He is a bit behind in school, because of those early years spent in hospital, and he has trouble writing because of the effect of cerebral palsy on his hands. There will always be medical concerns, and there will always be financial concerns — when Americans fret about medical insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, they are talking about people like Alex Montoyo.

But the family is no longer living in the world of the sick, no longer walking the razor’s edge, though perhaps you never fully escape it. “Do you think we’re out of it?,” Samantha asks her husband. “I never leave it. I’m afraid if I let go of doomsday, if I’m not prepared for doomsday, then doomsday will happen.”

The drive to Dunedin Stadium from the golf resort where many of the Toronto Blue Jays’ staff reside during spring training is relatively short and relatively straightforward, but as Montoyo sets out before dawn, the disembodied GPS voice in his car is still a necessary navigational aid. For 18 years, Port Charlotte, an hour-and-a-half south of here along the Gulf Coast, was his spring home as a member of the Rays organization. Baseball is baseball, spring training is spring training, but it’s a little different here, and it’s taken a little time to get used to it. A new organization, new players, a new coaching staff. A dream realized.

Montoyo finally pulls into his parking spot, destination reached. “Every time, at one time during the day,” he says, “I get that feeling that, oh my god, I’m a big-league manager.”

The year after his brief major-league audition with the Expos, Montoyo reached a career crossroads. He was back in triple-A, with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the Phillies’ minor-league system, when the 1994 strike aborted the MLB season, and then spring training the following year was delayed after the players were locked out.

For the 1996 season, Montoyo re-signed with the Montreal organization, but realized early in camp that he probably wasn’t going to make their triple-A team. The Expos offered him a job that was, on the face of it, a demotion — acting as player/coach with their double-A farm club in Harrisburg, Penn. But Montoyo saw it as an opportunity to begin building a second career in the game. That Harrisburg team had a wealth of talent — 20 of its 25 players would eventually make it to the majors, including a tall, skinny kid from the Dominican named Vladimir Guerrero. The experience of being a mentor that season convinced Montoyo of where his future lay. “I was always kind of a leader when I was a player,” he says. “That year taught me that I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to teach baseball. I wanted to be a manager someday.”

Someday came fast. The following spring, his friend Tom Foley, a former Expo who had been hired by an expansion team then known as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, hired Montoyo to manage the new organization’s short-season A-level affiliate, Hudson Valley. He won a division title in 1998, and from there it was success upon success: a playoff berth with class-A Bakersfield in 2001; a Southern League title with double-A Montgomery in 2006; seven division titles, six trips to the International League finals, two Governors’ Cup championships and a triple-A championship during his eight seasons with the Bulls, where he was twice named manager of the year, was given Baseball America’s awards as Triple-A Manager of the Year and Minor League Manager of the Year, and where, when he left to join the Rays as their third-base coach in 2016, his number was retired.

YEARS OF SUCCESS
The Montoyo era in Durham saw the Bulls set records and win titles as arguably the most consistent club in triple-A.

It is quite a resume. And yet it wasn’t enough to land Montoyo a major-league job. When Joe Maddon left the Rays for the Cubs in 2015, Montoyo was given a courtesy interview before Kevin Cash was hired, but that was about it, and the larger trend lines in baseball were hardly encouraging.

Teams were looking for managers who were younger, fresher, closer to their playing careers. Dues-paying and minor-league experience no longer seemed to carry much weight. Cash was 37 years old when the Rays hired him away from the Cleveland organization. The sum total of his coaching and managerial experience? Two years as Cleveland’s bullpen coach. “Sometimes,” Chaim Bloom, the Rays senior vice president of baseball operations, says, “trends in the game seem to take over where people start looking for a different profile, and they overlook the person.”

As he entered his early fifties, it seemed entirely possible that Charlie Montoyo’s window of opportunity had closed. “I love the game. I loved what I was doing. I didn’t want to do anything else,” he says. “It’s just like life — the guys that do better keep moving up, and the guys that do so-so, they stay in the same spot. But you also have to be lucky. There’s a saying in baseball that it’s better to be lucky than to be good. And I remembered that saying when I was in triple-A for so long — I played there six years and I managed eight…. I was just trying to do the best job I could where I was. I was just trying to be the best triple-A manager I could be. Not thinking of anything ahead. That’s how I dealt with it.”

Each week through the baseball season, Ben Nicholson-Smith and Arden Zwelling take listeners inside the Blue Jays clubhouse and around MLB.

Listen and subscribe for free

Cash did bring him to the major leagues, first as his third-base coach, then as his bench coach. The Rays enjoy a sterling reputation in the game for innovation and player development, and Montoyo was clearly a part of that, but as the 2018 season drew to a close, and managerial jobs opened, his name rarely came up.

He did interview with the Cincinnati Reds immediately after the season and then waited two weeks to find out that, though he’d been a finalist, he didn’t get the job, which went instead to David Bell. In the meantime, other positions were filled — including by his much-younger colleague on the Rays’ staff, Rocco Baldelli, who was hired by the Minnesota Twins.

Still, his family’s faith never wavered. “My dad is the one who always believed,” Montoyo says. “Every time I got an interview he said, ‘When are you going to get your chance? You paid your dues.’ Every time I talked to him he asked, ‘Did you get any calls? Did you get any interviews?’”

When Rays general manager Erik Neander called to tell Montoyo that the Blue Jays had asked for permission to interview him, he had become sufficiently cynical about the process to not even want to return the call. Neander had to persuade him that the Jays were serious, that this wasn’t just another courtesy interview before they hired someone else.

Montoyo got on the plane for Toronto with precious little hope that this time things would turn out differently.

Looking back now, what happened next seems a bit unbelievable — both from Montoyo’s perspective and from the Blue Jays’. The team’s president, Mark Shapiro, and general manager, Ross Atkins, with their first chance to hire a field manager following the firing of John Gibbons, committed to a detailed process of interviews and evaluation, narrowing down their list of candidates to a final five — which did not include Montoyo. But his name kept coming up. Even some of the other candidates suggested that the Jays ought to talk to him before they made a final decision.

LONG TIME COMING
“There are other people who I would say it was a case of right place, right time," says Samantha. "But Charlie deserves the job.”

Montoyo arrived in Toronto for a full day of interviews with various members of the front office — and a mock press conference, to see how he’d handle that part of the job — and then went out for dinner with Shapiro and Atkins. That meal has become the centrepiece of the story: the waiter took forever to serve them in an otherwise empty restaurant and Montoyo joked that he’d slipped him a twenty so he could have more time with his potential bosses. “We all relaxed,” Atkins says, “we all three belly-laughed, and it set the tone for the rest of our dinner.”

The whirlwind courtship rapidly picked up steam. Those Blue Jays suits, oft-criticized for being too buttoned-down and corporate, were swept away, and a guy who could never get a break was on the verge of getting his big one.

Still more interviews followed the next day. Before he left for the airport for his flight back to Tucson that night, Montoyo asked Atkins to render a verdict right there, yay or nay, and spare him the agony, but Atkins wasn’t willing to commit.

The next morning, at home, Montoyo’s cellphone rang. He tends to walk when he talks, so he headed out into the street in front of his house. Atkins was on the phone. “I had a great big smile on my face when I made that call,” the GM says.

As he was being told told that he was the new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, Montoyo heard screaming. Samantha was the source. They were supposed to be heading out for a late breakfast, and she had come out the front door, indignant, determined to get Charlie off the phone and moving. “I was going to dramatically stomp off,” she says. That’s when she saw the snake — an extremely large rattlesnake stretched across their front walkway. Hence the reaction.

Charlie gallantly came to the rescue, chucking rocks at the reptile, which had little effect because, in fact, it was dead. It wasn’t until he realized that, and then moved the snake’s carcass aside with a rake, that he told his wife the news.

“He deserves this job,” Samantha says. “There are other people who I would say it was a case of right place, right time. But Charlie deserves the job.”

Montoyo then FaceTimed his parents in Puerto Rico. “I said, ‘You guys have to sit down for a minute.’ Then I told them I got the job with the Blue Jays. That’s when I first got emotional about it. That was a great moment I’m never going to forget.”

At their little kitchen table in Florida, Nydia and Felix remember the moment well. “When Charlie called us to tell us he had been chosen to be the manager,” Nydia says, “my husband and I hugged, we cried, we told him, ‘Charlie, praise the Lord, finally a team noticed your track record as a manager, and you’ll take the Jays wherever you want to take them because you have the potential to take them to the top’….

“Imagine, the Niño de Oro chosen to manage the Toronto Blue Jays. There were tears of joy. That’s God’s work, no doubt.”

“I knew he was going to get there,” Felix says. “In his own time, not sooner or later — now. Thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays — I love you.”

After delivering the good news to the rest of the family, Montoyo and Samantha finally got their breakfast. They were sitting in the restaurant when she let it all sink in.

“And then I cried,” Samantha says. “And I don’t cry.”



Design by Sasha Barkans
Editing by Evan Rosser

Photo Credits

Photography by Devon Burns (4); Nate Billings/CP; Nathan Denette/CP.