Photography: Ilich Mejia; Photo Assistant: Francisco Andrade; Stylist: Chad Burton; Styling Assistant: Crystal Williams; Grooming: Antonio Hines; Video: Elaine Fancy, Spencer Bell
There are few teams in Major League Baseball that have more fun than the Toronto Blue Jays. And who’s leading that group of young, fun-loving players? The man who carries the city with him every five days with the number six emblazoned on his back.
On a team full of great stories, Alek Manoah stands out.
This month, the sophomore pitcher was named to his first MLB All-Star team while leading Blue Jays starters with nine wins and a 2.34 earned run average, which ranks third among American League pitchers.
After travelling to Los Angeles for his All-Star debut, Manoah made his presence known even amongst the league’s brightest stars. The mic’d up sophomore went back-and-forth with the broadcast crew in his ear throughout his inning of work, which led to a series of interactions that allowed the rest of the world to see the personality that Toronto fans had already come to love. Predictably, the conversations caught the internet by storm.
“Usually when I talk to myself, no one talks back,” Manoah laughed to reporters after the game.
But despite how enamoured media and fans alike have become with his larger-than-life personality and limitless potential on the mound, Manoah isn’t concerned with individual accolades or validation. Instead, the pitcher has his sights set firmly on carrying Toronto towards a postseason appearance and, eventually, a pennant.
“The main goal is to go out there and do everything I can to help win a World Series,” Manoah says when asked if he had considered winning the Cy Young, the league’s most prestigious pitching honour and one he’s on the hunt for. “As long as I do that, I feel the accolades will follow.”
Manoah does revel in proving his doubters wrong, though. The starter says he heard others suggest he would slip into a sophomore slump—that MLB hitters had figured him out. Information goes both ways though and Manoah is confident the experience he gained from his rookie season has handed him some new tricks up his sleeve. His game predicates on a constant balance between the youthful exuberance that fuels himself and his teammates and the maturity he’s steadily gained over the course of two seasons.
“I think coming into this year, I was just able to be more prepared and understand the league a little bit better, which gave me more confidence going in,” Manoah says. “Being able to not only understand what works best for me but now understanding what they’re trying to do against me and how they’re trying to do it.”
Through two years in the league, Manoah has shown he’s not your average starting pitcher—on or off the field. For most pitchers, starting the day is a grind. Look into the Blue Jays dugout four out of every five days, and the pitcher will be sitting on the bench alone; Manoah is the exception to that rule.
The 6’6” right-hander can be found on the dugout’s top step, reveling in the fun of the “Barrio.”
The Barrio, a Spanish word meaning “neighbourhood,” was added to the team’s lexicon during the 2021 season. Officially recognized on the team’s home run jacket, the Barrio isn’t so much a destination as it is a recognition of the tight-knit culture the Blue Jays have created.
“The locker room culture is amazing,” Manoah says. “Everybody has a different personality, but I think the biggest thing is everybody loves to have fun. We understand we’re working hard, and we’re working toward our goal, but we’re going to have fun doing it.”
Personality was on full display after an 8-6 win over Cleveland last season, a game that perhaps acted as a coming-out party for Manoah’s larger-than-life locker room presence.
Manoah released a video on Instagram that went viral among the Blue Jays fanbase, with music blaring through the locker room, strobe lights in full effect, and a roster-wide clubhouse celebration ensuing. This season, the starter says that type of celebration is a regular occurrence for this Jays squad.
“After every win, we kind of get the lights going, get the smoke going,” Manoah laughs. “Everybody is just in there dancing around and just really enjoying each other. I think that’s just a sign of how much fun and how grateful we are to be able to have the career that we have and to pursue our dreams.”
The easy-going, happy-to-be-here personality that the Blue Jays emanate matches Manoah perfectly. He says it’s a life outlook he learned from his mother, Susana Lluch.
“We kind of grew up in some negative circumstances, so it’s very easy to kind of [spiral] in the wrong direction,” Manoah explains. “For us, it was [to] just try and embrace every little thing and not take it for granted, we’re blessed to be alive every day, and we’re blessed to be able to have the opportunity to get better.”
It’s not just his sunny outlook on life that Manoah picked up from his mother. He says his incredible work ethic—the same instinctual drive that makes him want to prove his doubters wrong and that earned him his first All-Star nod this season—was also taught by Lluch.
“She’s been my rock since day one,” Manoah says. “Just being able to see everything she’s done for not only me, but my brother, she’s my inspiration every day to work hard. […] She keeps me humble and she’s the reason I work so hard.”
The hard work Manoah has put into his career has paid dividends. Next week, he’ll travel to Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles with his teammates, George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to represent Toronto in the All-Star Game. But even amongst the game’s biggest names and brightest talents, Manoah’s personality isn’t likely to get lost in the crowd.
“Whatever I’m doing, I’m me,” he explains, wearing a striking white suit he had custom-tailored by Toronto-based Brenton & Co. to match his Jordans. “Everyone has the same goal: to win a World Series. But [in Toronto], they’ve embraced us as individuals. […] Expressing my personality, my style, my mentality, it’s how I got here. It’s what makes me and the team successful.”
Such personalities have made the Blue Jays one of the most dynamic breakout teams in their division heading into the All-Star break. Last season, the team won 91 games, the second most by a non-playoff team in the two-wild-card era. This season, they’ve emerged as a legitimate World Series contender. As for how high this young roster can rise this year and in the years to come, like Manoah’s personality, the potential remains larger-than-life.