DUNEDIN, Fla. -- On most days, before he heads into work, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo goes out for a run. It usually spans four or five miles, whether in Florida during Spring Training or in Toronto during the regular season.
On Tuesday morning, MLB.com joined the skipper for his daily jaunt along the Pinellas Trail, gaining insight into how Montoyo uses his run to prepare for the day ahead.
Starting and finishing at TD Ballpark, Tuesday’s run began almost a half hour before sunrise. And thanks to daylight saving time -- as well as early Spring Training report times -- those runs are likely to begin in darkness until Montoyo’s daily exercise routine changes locations for the season.
His attire sparked some concern for what’s to come when Montoyo returns to the frigid Toronto temperatures in just over two weeks’ time. On this 18-degree-Celsius Florida morning, he wore multiple layers for his jog to Michigan Boulevard and back.
It’s clear that Montoyo is familiar with his route as he heads north on Pinellas Trail, leading the way and offering a friendly greeting to everyone coming the opposite direction.
The 54-year-old started running as a kid in Puerto Rico, and Montoyo became so good at it that he was offered a college scholarship in his home country as a 400-meter specialist. The training was brutal -- “just running until you threw up,” Montoyo recalled. He was glad that after a year of competing on the track and playing semi-professional baseball in Puerto Rico (he signed his first baseball contract with the Titanes de Florida for five dollars), Montoyo earned a scholarship to Louisiana Tech University to participate in the sport he was most passionate about.
Now, running is a daily departure from the grind of the game. Despite wearing Under Armour turf shoes at the diamond, Montoyo would never stray from his Brooks for the pavement. And when he’s not inviting guests along for the run, he spends it listening to his favorite salsa music on his ear buds and thinking through the day ahead.
The jog is often where Montoyo lays out his daily agenda in his mind. He goes through a checklist of what needs to be done, what’s on his plate, questions he needs to ask his other coaches, and moves into thinking about his lineup and potential matchups.
At the forefront of his thinking each day are the players he wants to chat with. With an understanding that no player wants to hear that he’s being called into the manager’s office, Montoyo makes a point of trying to address individuals when they’re doing well or making marked improvements. At times, he has to prepare for the unpleasant conversations as well.
With less last-minute planning and fewer daily changes during Grapefruit League action than the regular season, Montoyo also finds himself with more time to worry.
“You can’t win the season in Spring Training, but you can definitely lose one here,” he said while running. “Injuries can happen any time. I worry every time I see somebody pitching inside to Vlad [Guerrero Jr.] or Bo [Bichette] or any of our hitters, or when something doesn’t seem right with our pitchers. Last year, we had so many injuries in the spring, and it can be so hard to recover.”
On Montoyo’s mind this particular day are the first round of cuts to the spring roster that he has to make later that morning. He, along with general manager Ross Atkins and director of player development Gil Kim, will meet with players as they’re sent out to Minor League camp. Pitching coach Pete Walker will join the conversations with the hurlers.
There will be no pink slips or notes left in the lockers of the 10 Blue Jays players who are leaving the big league clubhouse because Montoyo still remembers the feeling he had in the spring of 1996. After two seasons in the Minors with the Phillies, the Expos brought him back as a free agent, making him feel wanted and giving him a glimmer of hope that he might make the roster. It wasn’t long before he realized that his tools and skills were not going to be enough to break camp with the team, and he spent every day peering around the corner of his locker, looking for that piece of paper.
Montoyo never was released. Before that decision was made he ran into Tom Foley, now a special assistant in baseball operations for the Rays, and mentioned his impending plans to retire. Foley, who had just begun working with the expansion team, asked the infielder if he’d ever thought about coaching.
It was the start of a second career.
Montoyo began having articles written about him as a teenager, when he started earning accolades for his running prowess. He would hear about them, and his mother would try to share them with him, but the young athlete didn’t want any part of it. As a runner – and then as a baseball player and manager -- Montoyo has long avoided watching, reading or hearing what the media has to say about him.
“I’ve never wanted to,” he said with a shrug. “And honestly, it helped prepare me for this job.”
Most of the time, Montoyo enjoys his twice-daily interactions with the Toronto media, often extending conversations much further than his pregame and postgame availability. Perhaps there’s no better example of his accessibility than in his decision to allow a reporter to join him for a run.
And yet, he’s still unlikely to read even this story.
Montoyo has seen the way media perception can influence fan bases, clubhouses and front offices and doesn’t want to be swayed by anything that might be out there. He aims to treat everyone equally and the same day in and day out, and though he isn’t sure that anything written about him might change his mind, he doesn’t want to find out.
One day earlier, there were rumors floating around TD Ballpark that after Montoyo’s early-morning run, he returned to the Toronto clubhouse, then quickly departed once more.
In the dark, along the Pinellas Trail, he’d come across a woman sleeping on a bench. By the time he returned to where he first saw her, he’d spent his entire run thinking of a way to help her. He couldn’t buy her breakfast, she said, so instead he filled a plate with food from the team cafeteria and brought it to her.
Montoyo confirmed the rumor on Tuesday as he jogged by the woman once more. She appeared to be asleep as he passed her heading north, but he stopped on the return route. Once again, he offered to get her a plate.
She showed him what she still had remaining from the day before, despite sharing some with others because of food allergies. She declined to accept more that day, though it’s unlikely Montoyo will stop trying if he continues to see her each morning.
Five miles and 50 minutes later, the run comes to an end. With the trail behind them, the day ahead, and an agreement that the run was easier with a partner, there’s no telling when it might happen again.