Yes, Charlie Montoyo was impressed with the early work of pitcher Nate Pearson this spring and how could he not have been? Read MoreBlue Jays staying fit and finding ways to keep feeling of momentum — Toronto Sun
es, Charlie Montoyo was impressed with the early work of pitcher Nate Pearson this spring and how could he not have been?
Ditto for the emerging play of Travis Shaw at first base, the revamped plate approach of Randal Grichuk and the renewal of potential from young stars Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio.
But if there was one thing that stood out for the Blue Jays second-year manager in the abruptly ended Grapefruit League season was how the players were building as a team and thriving in a clubhouse with a notably different tenor than as recently as a year ago.
“We had great momentum going into season,” Montoyo said on Thursday during a conference call with Jays reporters. “The culture was great. The clubhouse was awesome and we don’t want to stop that.
“(There is) a lot of guys who want to lead. That’s great. The momentum that we had in spring training, how the team was talking to each other, it was pretty awesome. The personality was really starting to develop.”
From sport to sport, the benefits of such a culture can’t always be easily measured but if fostered from within a group with enough talent, can be a meaningful intangible.
To that end, even if the global COVID-19 pandemic has had other ideas, Montoyo said the Jays front office and coaching staff has been diligent about keeping that camaraderie alive and doing so by opening the lines of communication throughout the team.
Each coach on the big league staff has been designated responsibility for a group of players to touch base with regularly. Later this week, a Zoom conference has been arranged for the players to replace some of their usual hangout time from this part of the calendar through a virtual dugout.
“We’re staying in touch often,” Montoyo said. “Coaches, guys in the front office … our main goal is to make sure our players are safe and happy.
“Guys are talking to the players constantly. We’re doing the best that we can in this situation. We’re doing everything we can to make sure everyone is doing what it takes. Of course, no one knows how long this is going to last, so (preparations are) awkward.”
Like so many with the Jays, Montoyo is a baseball lifer who has lived the sport from his early days in Puerto Rico, to a long and colourful career coaching and managing in the minor leagues, to his big break with the Jays. So while family time at his home in Tuczon, Ariz., has no doubt been nice, not being around the sport has been a challenge.
Montoyo has heard the various proposals put forth for baseball’s return but didn’t want to venture into an opinion on them, even the one that suggested an entire season could be played further up his now home state in the Phoenix area.
“I love the fact that Major League Baseball and the union are coming up with ideas,” Montoyo said. “My focus is my work with the Blue Jays and making sure we are supporting our players. I don’t want to speculate on ideas because they are just ideas. It seems like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Waiting for the all clear for a return is dodgy business, of course, and the Jays have been doing what they can to ensure players get whatever help is available. Montoyo said that strength coach Scott Weberg has been in touch with players to consult and develop fitness programs.
“The main thing is making sure they have places to work out depending on rules of whatever state they are in,” Montoyo said. “Everybody is doing what it takes. Some guys might have an indoor cage, a park next to the house … everybody is doing something to try to stay in shape for whenever that time comes.”
Pitchers have been adapting in a variety of ways, Montoyo said. Jordan Romano and Thomas Pannone are living together which affords them the opportunity to play catch, for example. Chase Anderson found a catcher who lives near him in his off-season home, for another. Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ryan Borucki and Pearson are among those who have made appearances at the team’s Dunedin base.
For now, all the work is of the maintenance variety and will remain that way until a path to the future is formalized. And through all that, Montoyo is remaining as patient as can be.
“I’m not only the manager of the Blue Jays, I’m also a fan of baseball,” Montoyo said. “I’m just hoping we can play baseball some time this year.
“It will be awesome for everybody. That would mean things are better. That would be great.”