Durham In a league where player development is more important than winning and rosters change on a dime, Charlie Montoyo has managed to cultivate a culture of success in Durham.
The path to being one of the best managers in the minor leagues has been a long one, but Montoyo does not think in terms of career climbing, at least not aloud. For the most part there are two things that concern him – his players and his family.
Currently in his eighth year at the helm of the Bulls, Montoyo will lead the International League squad as the team’s manager in Wednesday’s Triple-A All-Star game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
If you ask Montoyo, 49, what he looks to get out of a strenuous Triple-A season that packs at least 140 games in a five-month period, his answer will always be the same – player development. With Class AAA ball focused on preparing players for the Major Leagues, Montoyo has a long list of players he has groomed who went on to be standouts for the Tampa Bay Rays. The list inclues:
Former A.L. Rookies of the Year Jeremy Hellickson and Evan Longoria; 2012 A.L. Cy Young award winner David Price; and All-Stars Matt Moore and Matt Joyce. All have played for Montoyo in Durham. And though not every player he coaches will go on to earn accolades, all of his players are thankful for his players-first attitude.
“We all have an immense amount of respect for him, especially myself, because he’s been great with me,” catcher Curt Casali said. “It’s my first time in Triple-A, so I’ve really, really enjoyed playing for him.”
“He’s as professional as they come. He takes care of his players. That’s his number one priority, to make sure that we’re feeling good on a day-to-day basis.”
Montoyo played in the minors in the systems of the Milwaukee Brewers, Montreal Expos and Philadelphia Phillies during his nine-year career.
“I manage thinking, ‘How would I think as a player?’ ” he said. “Because I played at this level for six years and played the minor league seasons and know how they feel. I would say, in that aspect, I’m a player’s manager because I know what they need and when they’re struggling, I know how they feel.”
While player development is his number one priority with the team, a little winning never hurts.
Best of the Bulls
As of Thursday, Montoyo had racked up 608 wins to go along with six division championships, two International League championships and the 2009 Triple-A Baseball National Championship in his time with the Bulls.
In addition to his two IL manager of the year awards, he is seven wins away from passing former Bulls manager Bill Evers as the winningest manager in franchise history – not that he would know.
“When I won the 500 games at this level, I didn’t know,” Montoyo said. “After the game, they threw water over the top of me. They got me by surprise because I didn’t know.”
“When I got to 600, I did not know either. The only reason I knew that I had a chance to be the all-time (winningest manager in Bulls history) is because Bill Evers, the guy who has it, told me in spring training.”
For Montoyo, the accolades are nothing more than a byproduct of doing a good job – he’s on his way to the Bulls’ seventh winning season in eight years. To others, the winning seasons and championships are milestones cementing Montoyo’s place among the best in the game.
“When you’re playing games at a rate we are – I think we did 29 in a row, now we’re on 24 in a row going into the All-Star break – it’s not easy,” catcher Curt Casali said. “Sometimes a manager’s got to be like a maestro. He’s got to push and pull and figure out different ways to win.“
“But as you can see, our record (51-44) is still solid and we’re still in first place in the division and it speaks highly to what he can do. We want to play hard for him and at the end of the day, he’s the main guy and we do what he tells us to. ”
Moving on up
Part of working in the minors is the dream of making it to the big leagues. Montoyo’s been there before, just not as a coach.
For a brief stint in 1993, Montoyo, a native of Florida, Puerto Rico, appeared in the Montreal Expos’ lineup, going 2-for-5 in four games. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for Montoyo. He would head back to the minors until 1996, ending his playing career in Ottawa. Just a year later, in 1997, Montoyo had his first job in coaching, working with the Princeton Devil Rays, starting an 18-and-counting year career of managing within the Rays organization. Just like a player, Montoyo spent the early years of his career moving around the minors, steadily climbing up in the ranks. After spending 10 seasons with six different teams, he was hired by the Bulls.
“I manage thinking, ‘How would I think as a player?’ ” Montoyo said. “Because I played at this level for six years and played the minor league seasons and know how they feel.”
“I would say, in that aspect, I’m a player’s manager because I know what they need and when they’re struggling, I know how they feel. I did get a chance to go to the big leagues one time, so I know what that feels like.”
The Rays know how valuable the Bulls manager is to their organization and say they are open to the idea of him eventually taking the big step to the big leagues.
“We look at Durham as a finishing school,” Jeff McLerran, the Rays assistant director of Minor League Operatons said. “If you look back at our rosters the past couple of years we’ve been in the playoffs, a large number have spent time in Durham.”
“I certainly think Charlie could have a position in the major leagues. I think he’s waiting for the right opportunity... We’d love to have him in the organization for life.”
Bigger than baseball
The past few months have been a treat for Montoyo, as his wife, Samantha, and two sons, Tyson, 11, and Alexander, 6, have joined him in Durham while the boys are on summer break. Samantha and the kids spend the rest of the year at their home in Tucson, Ariz., making the season a difficult time for the Montoyos, but nowhere close to what it has been.
The Montoyo’s youngest son, Alex, has required multiple surgeries to deal with Ebstein’s anomaly, a heart defect that affects one in every 25,000 babies. The past seven years have been a day-in, day-out battle, with Alex undergoing surgeries, including open-heart procedures.
While Montoyo does not like to delve into the subject of his son’s health, Alex, 7, was running around the clubhouse, laughing with his brother during a recent visit. And it’s seeing this that makes their father realize how lucky he is, no matter who he is coaching.
“That made me a better manager because I know it could be worse,” Montoyo said. ”It’s tough, because they’re going to go back to school and I’m going to be here by myself. But that’s when it comes to having a strong wife. And I’ve got one.”
And the sense of family does not stop with Montoyo. Most of the players on the Bulls’ roster are married, so during the long stretches of playing 20-plus games in a row, Tyson and Alex provide a welcome relief from the day-to-day grind.
“This is the first time I’ve been around a manager with younger kids, but we enjoy having them in the clubhouse,” Casali said. “It’s a breath of fresh air to just kid around with them, throw the baseball and play catch with them.”
So whether he is coaching the Bulls in five years or has moved on up to the big leagues, Montoyo will be content.
“If it’s the Rays, wherever, I’m going to do the best I can because I have a family I have to provide for,” he said. “Of course, it’s been great with the Rays, because it’s all I know as a coach. We have been doing so great the last eight years here and in the big leagues that it feels great. But whoever I work for, I’m going to do my best.”
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