Baseball’s unbalanced schedule brings the Rays to The Bronx three times a year, and that proved especially therapeutic for Charlie Montoyo this week.
Montoyo, the Rays’ third-base coach, grew up in Puerto Rico. His parents and his sister still live there. Like everyone with ties to the U.S. territory, Montoyo has led a stressful existence since Sept. 20, when Hurricane Maria struck there as a Category 4.
Here in New York, home to more than a million Puerto Ricans (as per the 2010 census), Montoyo at least finds an abundance of people who can very much identify with what he and his family are enduring. He finds comfort in the shared concern.
“It’s almost like going to Cuba last year,” Montoyo said this past week.
Most coaches arrive at the ballpark at around noon for a night game, and after he finishes his early preparation, Montoyo goes for a run. When he’s at the Stadium, he heads east for about two miles until he arrives at Casa Amadeo, the legendary music store on Prospect Avenue whose owner, 83-year-old Mike Amadeo — a musician who says he pitched quite well at the amateur level in his younger days — has his store’s street named after him.
“Mariano has nothing over me,” Amadeo said, laughing, referring to “Rivera Avenue,” named after the Yankees’ iconic closer.
Amadeo said a few baseball types come into his store each season. He especially enjoys spending time with Montoyo, a big salsa fan. The two men commiserated this past week about their native land’s very dangerous situation.
He has a few family members still there, Amadeo said, and his parents and a daughter are buried there. Montoyo, meanwhile, has done the best he can to keep tabs on his parents, Nydia and Felix, both in their 80s, who live in the tiny town of Florida, and his sister Wanda, who lives with her husband in Vega Baja. On Monday, Montoyo received a call from his cousin informing him that everyone was hanging in there. Through the middle of this week, Montoyo had yet to speak or even text with his parents and sister.
“I keep calling them and it’s busy, busy, busy” Montoyo said. “… I could tell (his cousin) was trying to be tough and then she broke down at the end, saying, ‘I don’t know how long we’re going to make it without power.’ It gets to the point where you’re hoping for rain so you can fill the tank with water for the bathroom.”
Montoyo has been watching CNN religiously for updates as well as checking Facebook for status updates from anyone he knows down there. Even with the Rays’ season ending on Sunday, it won’t be much easier for Montoyo to help his family.
His visit to New York at least gave Montoyo an outlet and plenty of empathy for his family’s extreme challenge. Here’s hoping that things are far, far better for Puerto Rico when the Rays come back here next season.
Let’s catch up on Pop Quiz questions:
1) From Charles Sanders of Briarcliff Manor: In the 1949 film “Battleground,” what baseball term do American soldiers use among themselves to confirm their nationality?
2) From Howard Gold of Kearny, NJ: A utility infielder for the Twins and Royals in (mostly) the ’70s, he appeared on three game shows of his era: “Concentration,” “Hollywood Squares” and “The Newlywed Game.” Can you name him?
The latest Lelands.com Masters Auction (http://lelands.com/) features cool baseball items like the specially padded cap Jackie Robinson wore for the Dodgers in 1947 and 1948 (to protect himself from beanballs) and the bat Pete Rose used for his record-breaking 4,192nd career hit. The auction closes October 27.
Your Pop Quiz answers:
1) “Texas leaguer”
2) Jerry Terrell
If you have a tidbit that connects baseball and popular culture, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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