For love and the sport: How his courageous son and prolonged baseball household encourage Charlie Montoyo

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1:07 PM ET

Anna Katherine Clemmons

CloseAnna Katherine Clemmons is a contributing author for ESPN The Journal.

TORONTO — A number of months into his tenure because the Toronto Blue Jays’ new supervisor, Charlie Montoyo sat in his workplace chair, discussing the sequence forward towards the San Francisco Giants.

Montoyo’s workplace inside Rogers Centre is small and tidy, devoid of litter. An autographed Andrew Katz portray of Herman Oliveras, Montoyo’s favourite salsa music artist, hangs on the wall adjoining to his desk. A set of huge conga drums stands alongside the again wall, a smaller set of bongos atop his desk. They don’t seem to be merely decor; when Montoyo was a coach with the Tampa Bay Rays, middle fielder Kevin Kiermaier says, he would usually discover Montoyo sitting within the gear room, hammering away on the bongos.

Hanging on the wall behind Montoyo’s desk is the Blue Jays’ full season calendar. Every sequence, dwelling and away, is highlighted, and he factors out the variety of days till his household arrives from their dwelling in Arizona — simply over a month to go. “Individuals don’t know,” Montoyo says, referring to how a lot he must be away from his household. “They suppose, ‘Oh, wow, [he’s in the] huge leagues … however virtually as quickly as they get to Toronto as soon as their faculty 12 months ends, we go on the highway,” Montoyo says, chuckling, as he shakes his head.

As a substitute, he sees his household on daily basis in pictures. After spending 21 years managing all through the minor leagues after which serving, most not too long ago, as Tampa Bay’s bench coach, Montoyo was employed in October to guide the Blue Jays. It is his first huge league managing job. Montoyo has 4 picture collages on his desk in Toronto of his sons — 11-year-old Alex and Tyson, 16 — and his spouse, Sam, whom he met almost 20 years in the past whereas he was managing the Charleston RiverDogs.

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However there’s one picture Montoyo retains hidden from view, a framed Four-by-6-inch picture inside his armoire. He takes the image out when others aren’t round, he says, as a reminder to himself.

The reveals Alex, simply earlier than his fifth birthday, mendacity in a hospital mattress within the intensive care unit, a stream of tubes and IVs protruding from his physique and his head. He’s sedated, mouth open, eyes closed, a peaceable expression on his face.

“I preserve this image right here to remind me how fortunate I’m,” Montoyo says.

The picture additionally brings perspective: of what he has misplaced all through his journey in baseball — specifically, time along with his household — but in addition of what he has gained in an prolonged household that stretches far past the sector.

Minutes after Alex was born in Tucson, Arizona, on Oct. 17, 2007 (which was additionally Charlie’s 42nd birthday), docs recognized him with Ebstein’s anomaly, a uncommon however critical coronary heart defect during which one of many coronary heart valves would not perform correctly. He was instantly medevaced to Phoenix Youngsters’s Hospital, and docs feared he would not survive the journey. ESPN revealed a narrative about Alex’s coronary heart situation in 2008, whereas Charlie was managing the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

Scott Cahalane and his older daughter, Ashley, learn the story the day it was revealed, on Father’s Day 2008. Scott, his spouse and their three kids lived in Buffalo and had tickets to the Bisons’ Triple-A recreation that night. Scott defined to Ashley that Montoyo could be the supervisor for the opposing staff. A number of hours later, she handed Scott a do-it-yourself card. “I made this for the man within the article,” Ashley, then 10, stated. “Can we give it to him?”Alex had his first open-heart surgical procedure when he was only a week outdated. Courtesy of Montoyo household

On the entrance, Ashley had drawn a baseball bat, ball and glove. Inside, she’d written a message: “Blissful Father’s Day. Since you may’t be with your loved ones immediately, you will be part of ours.”

On the recreation, after each groups had completed batting apply, Cahalane walked right down to the dugout. He requested a participant to see if Montoyo had a couple of minutes to speak. Montoyo walked up the steps and Cahalane launched himself. The 2 chatted earlier than he handed Montoyo the cardboard. Montoyo learn it, slowly. He smiled and gave Ashley a hug, telling her, “Thanks. That is great.” Says Cahalane: “We had been simply two strangers, however you might see it made an impression.”

Montoyo requested if the household may come again the subsequent day; Cahalane replied that they may, and Montoyo left them recreation tickets. They talked once more earlier than the subsequent recreation, and Cahalane says he promised he and Ashley could be again the next 12 months for the Bulls’ sequence towards the Bisons. Montoyo gave Cahalane his contact info, and the 2 exchanged emails all year long. Their friendship grew as they corresponded about their households, jobs and lives. Cahalane travelled incessantly for work, and the 2 commiserated over having to spend time away from their households.

Alex spent the primary few years his life out and in of hospitals. His first surgical procedure was at Phoenix Youngsters’s Hospital when he was solely every week outdated. He spent a month at Phoenix Youngsters’s earlier than being transferred to UCLA Hospitals in late November 2007 for a transplant analysis. Sam and Charlie drove to UCLA on Nov. 18; on Nov. 20, Tyson turned 5. His mother and father needed to miss his birthday (although his grandmother hosted an “wonderful social gathering” for him, Sam says).

At UCLA, Alex remained within the ICU as docs evaluated his shunt, which had been implanted at Phoenix Youngsters’s. They decided it was too huge, so surgeons shrunk the shunt in one other open-heart surgical procedure, in December 2007. Alex remained within the hospital for 3 months.

At 18 months outdated, Alex returned to UCLA for his third open-heart surgical procedure. By this one, often called the Glenn process, docs rerouted Alex’s circulatory system to permit for the blood from the highest half of his physique to bypass the precise aspect of his coronary heart.

Every time Alex had a surgical procedure, or if his staff had a uncommon off day, Montoyo would fly backwards and forwards from Durham, North Carolina, scheduling a red-eye return flight so he may very well be on the ballpark the subsequent morning. When Alex wanted one other surgical procedure, this time on his abdomen, in Might 2008, Charlie missed a recreation for the primary time in 16 years. He flew throughout the nation and again inside 48 hours for the process, all on no sleep.

Sat down with Charlie Montoyo in his workplace immediately. And no, we did not discuss Vladi Jr… We simply had a bit of salsa enjoyable! That is how he relaxes! Hoy con Charlie Montoyo no nos pusimos a hablar de Vladi… nos divertimos con el gran José Alberto “El Canario”… ¡Qué talento!

— Marly Rivera (@MarlyRiveraESPN) April 24, 2019

Nonetheless, Montoyo not often talked about Alex’s coronary heart problems across the staff.

“Us gamers had no thought what was happening, as a result of he saved it so hush-hush,” Kiermaier says. “He in all probability thought of it each second when he was on the subject. However the best way he balanced that out and by no means introduced a tragic or unfavourable perspective, that is Charlie, 24/7. He is the very best.”

Montoyo’s demeanor wasn’t at all times so calm. Previous to Alex’s well being scares, Montoyo’s fiery character confirmed on the sector when he argued calls and ripped up lineup playing cards. However virtually shedding his son caused a modified perspective — and a brand new management model.

Earlier than Alex’s last main surgical procedure at UCLA Medical Heart, in 2012, Cahalane emailed Montoyo to ask who from his household could be there. Sam’s father, John Startt — who can also be Alex’s blood donor, as they’re each Kind A-negative — and Charlie’s cousin, Jose Montoyo, had been the one different relations current, Charlie instructed him, beside Sam, Alex and himself. (Sam’s mom, Suzanne Startt-Wilkes, stayed dwelling with Tyson).

So Cahalane, who travels incessantly as a part of his work for a software program firm, purchased a aircraft ticket and flew to Los Angeles. He landed whereas Alex was in surgical procedure and, a short time later, texted Montoyo from the ready room: “I am right here. You need not come down, however when you want one thing, I am right here.” After the surgical procedure, whereas Alex was taken to a different space of the hospital, the Montoyos met with their pal.

“It was actually, very nice,” Sam stated of Cahalane’s impromptu arrival. “Typically it is good to have somebody to take a seat within the cafeteria with, somebody who knew us nicely sufficient to know that now just isn’t the time to ask me silly questions. Simply sit there with me and be there and be supportive. It was very considerate.”

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A number of years later, following an extended highway journey for the Bulls, Cahalane flew Sam, Tyson and Alex to Buffalo for the Bulls sequence. He picked them up from the airport and drove them to the staff lodge. When Charlie stepped off of the elevator to go to the stadium, Alex ran out and gave him an enormous hug. One other time, because the Bulls endured an eight-game shedding streak on the highway and Charlie hadn’t seen his household in virtually two months, Cahalane traveled to every recreation, supporting him from the stands.

“It is a actually good friendship,” Montoyo says of Cahalane. “He’d be my pal even when I weren’t in baseball — and that is what I like about him.”

Alex underwent his first main open-heart surgical procedure simply seven days after he was born. Amongst hospital and lodge stays, medicines and extra, the Montoyos noticed that their bills would shortly develop. That they had a modest home, drove an outdated automobile and lived “like minor league folks,” Sam says. Whereas they’d some cash saved, they did not have the expansive quantity they would want within the ensuing months and years.

As they contemplated what to do, a pal instructed Montoyo about B.A.T., the Baseball Help Group. Based in 1986, the MLB-affiliated group supplies confidential monetary help to candidates who want monetary assist for quite a lot of causes, whether or not medical payments, retirement care, acquiring a university diploma and the like.When the Montoyos confronted overwhelming bills due to Alex’s prolonged hospital stays, the Baseball Help Group helped out with a grant. Now they’re paying it ahead with the Blue Jays. Courtesy of the Montoyo Household

B.A.T. started as a handful of former gamers who needed to assist retired main leaguers in monetary misery; it has grown into a corporation that additionally assists minor leaguers, umpires, scouts, main and minor league front-office personnel, former Negro League gamers, widows and extra.

“Actually, your complete baseball household,” Erik Nilsen, the manager director of B.A.T., says. “If somebody has had a professional baseball-related paycheck for not less than two years, they’re eligible to use for a grant.”

Final 12 months, B.A.T — which has a workers of 5 and a board of 15 members, principally retired MLB gamers — acquired 475 grant purposes, and the group spent $Four.5 million to assist candidates.

When the Montoyos discovered that they’d must spend a number of months in L.A. for Alex’s first UCLA-based surgical procedure, Sam referred to as Jim Martin, then B.A.T. govt director, in tears. It was November 2007, at eight on a Saturday evening. A number of hours later, the B.A.T. board held an emergency midnight name and permitted the Montoyos for a grant.

“The medical care wasn’t the issue — insurance coverage coated these issues,” Sam says. “What it did not cowl was how the hell you progress to a different state and maintain your youngsters.” She discovered a one-bedroom condominium in Westwood that was a five-minute stroll to the hospital, utilities included, with a month-to-month lease; the hire was $Four,800 per 30 days. Whereas Charlie’s former and then-current groups in Montgomery, Alabama, and Durham held fundraisers for the household, the payments nonetheless grew.

All through the autumn of 2007 and winter of 2008, because the Montoyos waited for Alex’s physique to develop sturdy sufficient for him to breathe with out his ventilator, they lived in Los Angeles. Sam went to the hospital every day whereas Charlie and Tyson performed at dwelling; Charlie took the hospital evening shift. In March, Alex was lastly discharged. The Montoyos flew dwelling to Tucson; two days later, Charlie left for spring coaching.

As soon as again dwelling, although, their medical challenges — and prices — mounted. Alex’s prescriptions totaled round $1,100 a month. He needed to study to make use of a feeding tube and could not eat stable meals till he was three. Sam enlisted a feeding-tube therapist to come back twice every week to show Alex to eat. Her fee was $400 per hour.

The pediatrician instructed Sam that Alex wanted a helmet, which was thought of “beauty” and thus not coated by insurance coverage. A bodily therapist got here to the home twice weekly to show Alex tips on how to stroll and transfer; an occupational therapist taught him speech remedy, as a result of one in every of his vocal cords had been paralyzed throughout a surgical procedure.

As a result of Charlie was along with his staff throughout the nation, Sam slept in Alex’s room every evening, administering nighttime medicines when he wanted them. After months of cumulative exhaustion from her sleep-interrupted nights, B.A.T. funding allowed Sam to rent a special-needs bodily therapist who got here to the home two nights every week; on these nights, Sam slept in her personal room for a stable eight-hour stretch.

“They had been at all times proper there,” Sam says of B.A.T. “They stated, ‘You do what you need to do, and we’ll maintain it.'”

In 2003, B.A.T. started a payroll deduction program, whereby main league gamers may choose to have a portion of their paycheck deducted annually to go towards B.A.T. Representatives from B.A.T. go to every staff throughout an annual spring-training fundraising tour, explaining the aim of the group and asking recipients to share testimonials of how the funding has affected their lives. Almost 1,600 gamers, coaches and managers from all 30 groups donated a document $three.Four million this previous spring.

“It is at all times good seeing folks in a greater scenario as soon as we’re accomplished helping, somewhat than a worse spot,” Nilsen says. “That is the last word purpose — being a short-term bridge.”

Annually, the American League and Nationwide League groups that collectively donate essentially the most funds every obtain the Bobby Murcer Award. Throughout spring coaching this 12 months, Montoyo spoke to the Blue Jays, opening up about how a lot B.A.T. had helped his household over time. The Blue Jays collectively donated over $200,000, profitable the AL award for the primary time.

The Cahalane household started its annual visits to Montoyo at spring coaching a number of years in the past. Whereas two of the Cahalane kids at the moment are in school, Scott nonetheless visits each spring. Montoyo referred to as Scott on the day he accepted the Blue Jays job final fall. Ashley, now a rising senior at Central Florida who plans to work with kids with particular wants following commencement, has grown significantly near Montoyo, whom she calls “Uncle Charlie.”Eleven years after she wrote him a Father’s Day card and invited him to be a part of her household, Ashley Cahalane and “Uncle Charlie” nonetheless meet up annually throughout spring coaching. Courtesy of Scott Cahalane

Whereas Alex’s surgical procedures, by all indications, had been profitable, the unintended effects have remained. He’ll possible finally want surgical procedure on his proper leg, which is longer than his left one. He has secondary cerebral palsy and has problem writing due to restricted motor expertise in his proper hand, so he makes use of a pc to sort notes at school, and his arms tire shortly whatever the exercise.

Nonetheless, “for what he is acquired happening, he is doing nice,” Sam says.

Starting in 2010, the Montoyo household started becoming a member of Charlie in Durham as soon as the college 12 months ended, a apply they continued when he joined the Rays’ huge league workers.

Whereas Tyson loves being round his dad, he would not love being round baseball on a regular basis. He’s a lacrosse participant, and he loves taking part in video video games. Alex, whereas he would not play organized sports activities, loves taking part in outdoors and P.E. class. And he at all times needs to be on the ballpark. He sometimes arrives within the early afternoon, rattling off the lineup to the gamers, strolling across the clubhouse to supply handshakes and high-fives — and flashing his huge, all-encompassing grin.

“When folks say, ‘Oh this man lights up the room,’ they do not at all times imply it,” Kiermaier says. “However whenever you speak about Alex, it is no cliché; he places a smile on everybody’s face. He is such a goofy, fun-loving child, and he is so honest about every part. He simply makes your day.”“Us gamers had no thought what was happening, as a result of [Montoyo] saved it so hush-hush,” Rays middle fielder Kevin Kiermaier, proper, stated of his former coach. “He in all probability thought of it each second when he was on the subject.” AP Picture/Michael Dwyer

Kiermaier remembers telling Alex, who then weighed 68 kilos, that he wanted to work on his power coaching. He requested if he may bench-press Alex, who responded, “No method!” However Kiermaier persevered: “Alex, it is for the staff!” Alex relented, so Kiermaier lay on the bench, hoisted Alex above him, and bench-pressed him eight occasions. “I instructed him I might hit a homer that evening. I did not hit a homer, however I did hit a deep double,” Kiermaier says, laughing.

Alex excels at video video games, significantly Fortnite, and a number of other Rays are his favourite co-players. Rays pitcher Blake Snell stated he and Alex frolicked virtually on daily basis in 2017. “When Alex would not come to the clubhouse, I might be upset,” the 2018 American League Cy Younger Award winner says. The 2 performed video video games collectively, talked baseball and simply frolicked. “Each time he got here to the park, it at all times made my day higher.”

Montoyo is barely the third Puerto Rican native to grow to be an enormous league supervisor, and he’s main a staff with two sons of former main leaguers on the lively roster: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (son of Corridor of Famer Vladimir) and Cavan Biggio (son of Corridor of Famer Craig). Montoyo appreciates the father-son bond, whether or not by baseball or outdoors of it. And due to baseball, his and his household’s circle has grown a lot wider, thanks largely to his affable nature, and the buddies they’ve made all through their journey, together with the Cahalanes.

“I do not care if he is the supervisor of the Blue Jays or the plumber down the road, as a result of it isn’t about what he does,” Scott Cahalane says. “Each time he sees my spouse and children, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in his life, he is Uncle Charlie, smiling and giving them huge hugs. There is a purpose we turned buddies.”Alex, Sam, middle, and Tyson, proper, cherish having Charlie dwelling in Arizona in the course of the offseason. Courtesy of the Montoyo household

And as that friendship has advanced, so has Montoyo. He took the lengthy highway to the majors, enduring trials alongside the best way, however at 53 he can take the broad view.

“Going by all of this with Alex, it made me a greater man,” Montoyo says. “As a result of now, if it is bases loaded, two outs … I do know, ‘OK, it may very well be worse.’

“It is all given me perspective.”



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