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

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1:10 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 collection 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 are not 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 tools room, hammering away on the bongos.

Hanging on the wall behind Montoyo’s desk is the Blue Jays’ full season calendar. Every collection, 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. “Folks do not know,” Montoyo says, referring to how a lot he needs to be away from his household. “They assume, ‘Oh, wow, [he’s in the] large leagues … however nearly as quickly as they get to Toronto as soon as their college yr ends, we go on the highway,” Montoyo says, chuckling, as he shakes his head.

As an alternative, he sees his household day by day in photographs. After spending 21 years managing all through the minor leagues after which serving, most lately, as Tampa Bay’s bench coach, Montoyo was employed in October to guide the Blue Jays. It is his first large 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 practically 20 years in the past whereas he was managing the Charleston RiverDogs.

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

The exhibits 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 additionally of what he has gained in an prolonged household that stretches far past the sphere.

Minutes after Alex was born in Tucson, Arizona, on Oct. 17, 2007 (which was additionally Charlie’s 42nd birthday), docs identified him with Ebstein’s anomaly, a uncommon however critical coronary heart defect by which one of many coronary heart valves would not operate 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 youngsters lived in Buffalo and had tickets to the Bisons’ Triple-A recreation that night. Scott defined to Ashley that Montoyo can be the supervisor for the opposing crew. A couple of hours later, she handed Scott a home made card. “I made this for the man within the article,” Ashley, then 10, mentioned. “Can we give it to him?”Alex had his first open-heart surgical procedure when he was only a week previous. Courtesy of Montoyo household

On the entrance, Ashley had drawn a baseball bat, ball and glove. Inside, she’d written a message: “Comfortable Father’s Day. Since you’ll be able to’t be with your loved ones in the present day, you could be part of ours.”

On the recreation, after each groups had completed batting apply, Cahalane walked all the way 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 have been simply two strangers, however you could possibly see it made an influence.”

Montoyo requested if the household might come again the following day; Cahalane replied that they might, and Montoyo left them recreation tickets. They talked once more earlier than the following recreation, and Cahalane says he promised he and Ashley can be again the next yr for the Bulls’ collection towards the Bisons. Montoyo gave Cahalane his contact data, 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 per week previous. 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 occasion” 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 large, 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 previous, Alex returned to UCLA for his third open-heart surgical procedure. By way of this one, often known as the Glenn process, docs rerouted Alex’s circulatory system to permit for the blood from the highest half of his physique to bypass the fitting aspect of his coronary heart.

Every time Alex had a surgical procedure, or if his crew had a uncommon off day, Montoyo would fly forwards and backwards from Durham, North Carolina, scheduling a red-eye return flight so he may very well be on the ballpark the following 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 in the present day. And no, we did not speak Vladi Jr… We simply had somewhat 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 issues across the crew.

“Us gamers had no concept what was happening, as a result of he saved it so hush-hush,” Kiermaier says. “He most likely 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 unfavorable perspective, that is Charlie, 24/7. He is the very best.”

Montoyo’s demeanor wasn’t all the time so calm. Previous to Alex’s well being scares, Montoyo’s fiery persona confirmed on the sphere when he argued calls and ripped up lineup playing cards. However nearly dropping his son led to a modified perspective — and a brand new management fashion.

Earlier than Alex’s ultimate main surgical procedure at UCLA Medical Middle, in 2012, Cahalane emailed Montoyo to ask who from his household can 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, have 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 airplane 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 needn’t come down, however in the event 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 good friend.

“It was actually, very nice,” Sam mentioned of Cahalane’s impromptu arrival. “Typically it is good to have somebody to take a seat within the cafeteria with, somebody who knew us properly sufficient to know that now will not be 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 couple of years later, following an extended highway journey for the Bulls, Cahalane flew Sam, Tyson and Alex to Buffalo for the Bulls collection. He picked them up from the airport and drove them to the crew resort. 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 dropping streak on the highway and Charlie hadn’t seen his household in nearly 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 good friend 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 resort stays, drugs and extra, the Montoyos noticed that their bills would shortly develop. That they had a modest home, drove an previous automobile and lived “like minor league individuals,” Sam says. Whereas that they had 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 good friend instructed Montoyo about B.A.T., the Baseball Help Workforce. Based in 1986, the MLB-affiliated group supplies confidential monetary help to candidates who want monetary assist for a wide range of causes, whether or not medical payments, retirement care, acquiring a school diploma and the like.When the Montoyos confronted overwhelming bills due to Alex’s prolonged hospital stays, the Baseball Help Workforce 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, all the baseball household,” Erik Nilsen, the manager director of B.A.T., says. “If somebody has had a professional baseball-related paycheck for a minimum of two years, they’re eligible to use for a grant.”

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

When the Montoyos realized that they’d have to spend a number of months in L.A. for Alex’s first UCLA-based surgical procedure, Sam known as Jim Martin, then B.A.T. government director, in tears. It was November 2007, at eight on a Saturday night time. A couple of hours later, the B.A.T. board held an emergency midnight name and accepted 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 deal with your children.” 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 monthly. 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 robust 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 night time 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 per week to show Alex to eat. Her price was $400 per hour.

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

As a result of Charlie was along with his crew throughout the nation, Sam slept in Alex’s room every night time, administering nighttime drugs 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 per week; on these nights, Sam slept in her personal room for a stable eight-hour stretch.

“They have been all the time proper there,” Sam says of B.A.T. “They mentioned, ‘You do what it’s a must to do, and we’ll deal with it.'”

In 2003, B.A.T. started a payroll deduction program, whereby main league gamers might choose to have a portion of their paycheck deducted annually to go towards B.A.T. Representatives from B.A.T. go to every crew 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 file $three.Four million this previous spring.

“It is all the time good seeing individuals in a greater scenario as soon as we’re performed aiding, fairly than a worse spot,” Nilsen says. “That is the final 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 yr, Montoyo spoke to the Blue Jays, opening up about how a lot B.A.T. had helped his household through the years. The Blue Jays collectively donated over $200,000, successful 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 youngsters are actually in school, Scott nonetheless visits each spring. Montoyo known 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 youngsters with particular wants following commencement, has grown notably 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, have been profitable, the negative 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 issue writing due to restricted motor abilities in his proper hand, so he makes use of a pc to sort notes in class, and his arms tire shortly whatever the exercise.

Nonetheless, “for what he is received 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 varsity yr ended, a apply they continued when he joined the Rays’ large league employees.

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 enjoying video video games. Alex, whereas he would not play organized sports activities, loves enjoying exterior and P.E. class. And he all the time desires 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 large, all-encompassing grin.

“When individuals say, ‘Oh this man lights up the room,’ they do not all the time imply it,” Kiermaier says. “However if 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 all the pieces. He simply makes your day.”“Us gamers had no concept what was happening, as a result of [Montoyo] saved it so hush-hush,” Rays middle fielder Kevin Kiermaier, proper, mentioned of his former coach. “He most likely thought of it each second when he was on the subject.” AP Photograph/Michael Dwyer

Kiermaier remembers telling Alex, who then weighed 68 kilos, that he wanted to work on his energy coaching. He requested if he might bench-press Alex, who responded, “No approach!” However Kiermaier endured: “Alex, it is for the crew!” 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 night time. I did not hit a homer, however I did hit a deep double,” Kiermaier says, laughing.

Alex excels at video video games, notably Fortnite, and a number of other Rays are his favourite co-players. Rays pitcher Blake Snell mentioned he and Alex frolicked nearly day by day 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 all the time made my day higher.”

Montoyo is barely the third Puerto Rican native to turn out to be an enormous league supervisor, and he’s main a crew 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 way of baseball or exterior 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 chums 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 youngsters, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in his life, he is Uncle Charlie, smiling and giving them large hugs. There is a purpose we grew to become associates.”Alex, Sam, middle, and Tyson, proper, cherish having Charlie dwelling in Arizona through 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 way of 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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