Blue Jays Montoyo's influence felt by Rays

September 29th, 2020

When the Blue Jays and Rays open their American League Wild Card Series today at Tropicana Field, some familiar faces will need to put their friendships on hold for two or three days.

Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo spent nearly two decades with the Rays' organization, where he managed 2,408 Minor League games with stops at each level. After eight seasons as the Rays’ Triple-A manager, Montoyo eventually joined the Major League club and, in 2018, was working as the bench coach when he was hired away by the Blue Jays.

More specifically, he was Kevin Cash’s bench coach. Montoyo doesn’t just know some of the Rays’ players, he has helped develop many of them into pieces of a deep and talented roster that finished atop the American League. They’re opponents this week, but Montoyo and Cash’s connection runs much deeper than that.

“His handprints are all over this organization,” Cash said. “You don’t spend, I don’t know how many years it was, in an organization and not have a big impact, and a positive one. Charlie is a special person. He has a special family. When they clinched, I FaceTimed him at 1:30 in the morning. It’ll be pretty exciting to get to see him.”

Rays games have always been circled on Montoyo’s calendar. The chess match is on and Montoyo -- like Cash -- is always looking for that extra edge against his friend. Montoyo, 54, took a longer road to a managerial job than Cash, 42, did, but says he couldn’t have done it without him.

“Kevin is one of the reasons I’m managing the big leagues right now,” Montoyo said. “He’s become one of my best friends in baseball. Way back when I was interviewing for the job, he called me two minutes before I interviewed and told me to be myself. We’re pretty close. I know he’s happy for me, and you know I’m happy for them.”

While the Rays were one of baseball’s best teams in 2020, finishing with a 40-20 record and well above the 32-28 Blue Jays, the two sides played one another closely. The Rays held a 6-4 advantage in their head-to-head matchups, but the Blue Jays outscored them 48-44 due to a couple of larger wins.

The two managers won’t be cracking as many jokes in a postseason game, of course, but it’s hard to break old habits.

“Every game, we make fun of each other, wait for the other guy's move and stuff,” Montoyo said. “We know each other pretty well, so it’s fun every time I go against him.”

The same goes for much of the Rays’ organization, too, of course. Yes, the clubs are division rivals, but Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said that he has been cheering his friend on and taking joy in Montoyo's own personal success with the Blue Jays. The mutual respect is strong, Mottola said, and both sides know when to flick the switch from friends to rivals.

Many of the Rays' players knew Montoyo from the Minor Leagues well before they knew him as their third-base coach or bench coach with the Rays. Tampa Bay has traditionally boasted a strong system, which Game 1 starter was a jewel of several years ago. In the big leagues, Snell and Montoyo grew closer, and Snell still has a great relationship with Montoyo’s young son, Alex.

“I remember when I was in the Minors, the goal was to go play for Charlie before anything. I always wanted to play for him,” Snell said. “I respected him before I even knew him, and then when I met him, I just loved the guy. He’s a great guy, great human, and he’s a really good coach. Every time I see Charlie, I’m really happy to see him.”

is another example, and he mirrors the strong relationship that Montoyo has with many of the young Latin players on the Blue Jays' roster as a bilingual manager. Now 25, Adames said that Montoyo treated him “like a son” when he was coming up, and Adames often leaned on his veteran coach for support and guidance when he struggled early in his career.

, who played for Montoyo with the Triple-A Durham Bulls for parts of three seasons from 2012-2014, has seen first-hand how Montoyo prepares a team. As one of the Rays' veterans, though, he has one goal in mind.

“I’m sure he’ll have his guys locked in and prepared,” Kiermaier said. “Those players on the Blue Jays are in great hands. You couldn’t ask for a better guy to go with, and I’m happy for him. He’s awesome, but we’re trying to kick his butt tomorrow and the next day, so we’ll see if we can accomplish that.”