TORONTO -- On his way to lunch with his wife and two boys Wednesday afternoon, John Schneider’s phone rang. It was Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins.
The family was on its way to Sportsnet Grill, attached to Rogers Centre and overlooking the stadium from high in left field. Schneider had to bail on Jess, Gunner and Greyson, though, and head downstairs. He’d just been named interim manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.
With Charlie Montoyo’s dismissal after three-and-a-half years at the helm, Schneider was the natural progression for the Blue Jays, sliding from bench coach into the manager’s chair in time for Wednesday’s 8-2 win over the Phillies. The 42-year-old called the moment “bittersweet," given his respect and admiration for Montoyo, but this was the phone call he’d waited two decades for.
Drafted by the Blue Jays in 2002, Schneider moved into a coaching role in ‘08 and has been climbing the ladder ever since. Along the way, he’s earned a specific reputation throughout the organization.
“He has a very, very significant love for the game and has had a deep passion about being a manager for a very long time,” Atkins said. “He has had, outside of his family, almost a singular focus on it. You can see how he’s grown into the leader that he is. … He has a level of positivity that is palpable. You guys have seen it, being in and around it, and our players have certainly seen it as well.”
It didn’t take long to see this energy translate in Wednesday’s win.
What changed, if you can take this one-game sample size as a glimpse into something bigger, was the Blue Jays’ aggression, which resulted in a pair of stolen bases and a well-executed hit-and-run with Santiago Espinal at the plate in the third inning and Matt Chapman at first. Chapman scored on Raimel Tapia’s RBI forceout in the next at-bat.
“You can't wait around for something to happen. You’ve got to force the issue at times,” Schneider said. “Espinal I know well and I know how he handles the bat, so it was a good opportunity for that to get the first run across. I think it made them more aware of us on the bases, honestly, with the way they were holding runners. That’s definitely something we want to do going forward, is to force the issue at times and be aggressive on the bases.”
This isn’t a secret within the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. Schneider has either managed these players in the Minor Leagues or been their bench coach in the Majors, so they all know what they’re getting into. To a man, the team’s roster expressed their appreciation for the job Montoyo has done, but it’s clear that the two men have different styles, as well.
“Schneider is definitely more of a big personality,” said Ross Stripling, who gave the Blue Jays seven excellent innings. “When I got done pitching, I came in here and watched, and they did a dance with [right-hander Jordan] Romano before the game that I’d never even seen before? That’s kind of Schneider in a nutshell. He’s full of energy with a smile on his face all the time.”
George Springer said the same before the game, too. If you had one dollar for each time someone used the word “energy” to describe Schneider, you’d be eating a nice lunch Thursday afternoon.
“He’s obviously a very energetic guy. He likes to have fun,” Springer said. “There’s never really a dull moment with him. So hopefully, who he is as a person will ooze onto us as players and allow us to relax, have a little bit more fun and enjoy the day.”
Energy is a start. This Blue Jays club is coming off an ugly stretch to open July that featured a 1-9 skid and a 1-6 road trip to the West Coast. In no world should the Orioles be inching up on the Blue Jays in the standings when you hold the two rosters side by side, but wins and losses are still decided on the field.
This is Schneider’s golden opportunity. Interim tags often turn into permanent gigs, especially for sought-after young coaches like Schneider who were already on the verge of becoming a very common name on the market. He’ll need to put his imprint on this team in a hurry as the Trade Deadline and playoff race near. But now that it’s his team to run with, Schneider stood from his chair at the end of his postgame press conference and said, as only a manager can:
“See you tomorrow.”