Of the more than 56,000 seats at Olympic Stadium — less than half of which were occupied for the Blue Jays-Brewers exhibition Monday night — Charlie Montoyo purposely plopped down in his favourite for his pre-game chat with the media.
On top of the metal bench, near the middle of the home team’s dugout.
“Last time I was in this place I was in this spot when Felipe Alou said ‘you’re going to go pinch hit,’” reminisced the Blue Jays manager. “That’s why I am sitting right here.”
For the uninitiated, Montoyo’s career as a big league infielder consisted of just four games and five at-bats. All with the Montreal Expos, all in a 22-day span in September, 1993.
The debut to which he refers was against a Colorado Rockies team that featured former Expos first baseman Andres (Big Cat) Galarraga and right fielder Dante Bichette, whose son Bo is an exciting Jays prospect.
On the mound for the Expos that day was Dennis (El Presidente) Martinez, one of the best starters in franchise history, while picking up the save was John Wetteland, one of the Expos’ most dominating closers of all-time.
Sure enough, Montoyo did pinch hit, for Oreste Marrero. Immediately behind him in the order were star outfielders Marquis Grissom and Larry Walker.
“I got here late, like 7 p.m. for a 7:10 game,” Montoyo said when asked for details. “I said hello to Felipe, put my uniform on and came and sat on this bench until the bottom of the eighth. He said ‘if they bring in the lefty, you’re going to go pinch hit’. And that’s what happened. They brought in the lefty and I went to pinch hit.”
And delivered a run-scoring single that stood as the game-winning RBI. A fine how-do-you-do.
Montoyo maintains he wasn’t nervous as he strode up to the plate for that first at-bat. But he would be, soon thereafter.
“No, because everything was so quick,” he said. “There were butterflies when I went to play defence because I hadn’t taken any ground balls or anything, and I hadn’t seen the roof.
“But Wetteland was lights out. One, two, three. Game over. I was the hero.”
Montoyo had one other hit, a double against the Florida Marlins, in his last big league game three weeks later. With it, he drove in two runs to give him three RBI and a .400 batting average on his career.
Exactly 25-and-a-half years later, Montoyo was a big league manager for the first time in a stadium with at least 56,000 seats on Monday night.
What goes around, in this case, has certainly come around.
“This place has been great to me. I did well,” Montoyo said. “It was a fun time for me here. And now it’s a fun time to come back as a big league manager. So it’s great. Montreal’s been great to me.”
Alas, Montoyo was not recognized along with all the other former greats before the game.
“I’m never going to forget I had my first hit of two here, in the big leagues, so that’s a memory I’m always going to have,” he said. “Hopefully they do my big highlights during the game .. they have to stop the game for the five seconds.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
Official attendance for Monday’s game: 24,482. That has to be considered a disappointment. How much of it was the absence of Vlady Jr.? … The Jays are hopeful, but say it’s now uncertain whether setup man Bud Norris will be ready for opening day. Over three innings pitched, Norris has four strikeouts, a walk and a 9.00 ERA. He’ll throw a bullpen session on Tuesday, after which it will be determined if he can be available Thursday. Montoyo said the 34-year-old former Cardinals closer has no arm issues. “When you think about it he’s only had three outings, and he came here late,” Montoyo said. “So it’s kind of not fair to judge the guy on three outings. But that’s what we’ve got. We’re two days away from starting the season, so we’ll see how he feels tomorrow then we’ll go from there.” … The Jays made it official by announcing they have signed veteran reliever Daniel Hudson to a one-year deal. The 32-year-old will join the team in time to be on the opening day roster. In order to get him on their 40-man roster, the Jays put second baseman Devon Travis on the 60-day DL. That means Travis, who had surgery to repair torn meniscus Mar. 15, will not be back until the end of May, at the earliest … Montoyo confirmed that Teoscar Hernandez will be his opening day left fielder, even though in a platoon system against Tigers righty Jordan Zimmerman, Billy McKinney would be the usual choice. “Teoscar has played really good and so did McKinney,” Montoyo said. “But I want to give (Hernandez) a chance and see what he can do.”
Being in Montreal, Montoyo was naturally asked about the absence of catcher Russell Martin and the leadership the Jays lost when they traded the Toronto-born, but Montreal-Chelsea, Que.-raised catcher, along with the $20 million and one year remaining on his contact to the Dodgers in January. “I’ll tell you what, we’ve got a good group here,” Montoyo said. “Again, we’re going to miss Russell, he was very good here. But the leadership we’ve got right now with Clayton Richard and Kendrys Morales and Justin Smoak, it’s pretty good. So we’re fine when it comes to that.” … Montoyo also praised the work of the team’s new starting catcher, Danny Jansen, who has gunned out three of six base would-be base-stealers. “He had a great training camp,” Montoyo said. “Lot of credit to (catching instructor) John Schneider, who worked hard with him. He’s been throwing to the bases, his times to second base are also very good. Offensively he’s swinging the bat good again. Very happy with how he’s playing.” … The battle between Eric Sogard and Richard Urena for the backup infielder job is literally going down to the wire. “That’s a great competition,” Montoyo said. “They’ve both played very well.”
Jays PR guy Richard Griffin was the victim of some good-natured chirping while serving as the official scorer of the game — specifically when giving Lourdes Gurriel Jr. a well-deserved error on the second batter of the game. “E?,” chided Larry Walker, from a seat two rows behind Griff. “The guy is trying to make the team.” The Expos really should have also honoured Griffin, who used to be their PR guy before he went to the Toronto Star as a columnist and then to the Jays in a familiar role. But to be truthful, the man is in a league of his own.
By Don Brennan
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019