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Toronto Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider is all smiles before the start of the game against the Kansas City Royals at Rogers Centre on July 15.John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

As the Blue Jay players doused one another with champagne to celebrate a playoff berth, there was John Schneider, right in the middle of the revelry. The bearded, deep-voiced interim manager, just a few months into his job, hollered at his team to “enjoy the [bleep] out of this.”

Schneider’s name might have been new to many fans on July 13 when he slid over from the bench-coach job after the firing of Charlie Montoyo. Yet the 42-year-old native of Princeton, N.J., is well known and respected inside the club.

This is Schneider’s 20th season within the Blue Jays organization – six as a catcher in the minors after they drafted him in 2002, and 14 in coaching roles with various teams under its umbrella. His energy and communication skills have endeared him to many along the way. His biggest moment has arrived.

The Jays, loaded with talent, were 46-42 when Schneider assumed the role, and have gone 46-28 since, earning the first American League wild card. They will play host to the Seattle Mariners in a best-of-three first-round series, which starts Friday afternoon.

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Schneider managed nearly 800 games in the minors, with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays, the short-season Single A Vancouver Canadians, the Class-A Lansing Lugnuts, the Advanced-A Dunedin Blue Jays, and the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats – leading the last two to league championships. He went to the major-league team for 2019 to develop catchers, then got promoted to bench coach for the 2022 campaign, reunited with many he’d managed in the minors, including slugger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and closer Jordan Romano.

“All the guys love him,” Romano said. “He’s been a player, too, so he knows how to motivate you, or kind of chill you out. I can go in after the games and talk to him. And I think maybe with other managers and people in power, it’s standoffish almost. But with him, he’s easygoing, he cares about his players, and you know it.”

Schneider has been to many champagne-popping parties in his baseball career, but said last week’s was the best, because it was a convergence of people he’s known for a long time on his way up the ladder, plus big-league veterans, and team newcomers.

“Because of the people that I’ve known for a long time, both players and coaches – we talked about this back in the minor leagues,” said Schneider, during a wide-ranging recent interview in his clubhouse office, one that features a large plaque with all the teams he’s managed.

Romano tells a story about playing for Schneider in Lansing in 2016. When the Lugnuts were on a lengthy losing streak, the players went into their clubhouse to find he had removed their table-tennis table and couches. On the other hand, Romano also remembers Schneider doing something he called “Spring break” in the minors, during the dog days of the season. For one week, he’d let them show up at the ballpark just a couple of hours before game time, to save their bodies and minds a little – a break from their usual lengthy pregame practice routine.

The Blue Jays current field co-ordinator, Gil Kim, was the farm director when Schneider managed in the minors, and they worked together closely. He remembers Schneider eager to try new things in practice, maybe utilizing a clock or a lacrosse ball in a drill. He created a culture of being a good teammate and practising with purpose. As far away from the big leagues as they sometimes felt, they knew they had talented prospects, from Guerrero to Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio, so they sometimes joked while working on even small things that “the 2022 or 2023 Blue Jays might depend on this.

“In the minor leagues, you’re focused primarily on individualizing the player development,” Kim said. “But John was able to balance that with winning, and also being selfless.”

When Danny Jansen was freshly drafted in 2013, he worked with Schneider as a teenager, playing for the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays. Although he was the manager, Schneider drew on his own catching background and put Jansen through his catcher workouts, often helping him lengthen out his arm by throwing a football with him.

“I didn’t have a college experience, so that was really my first time being away from home and he was my first manager and so easy to talk to, but also always held me accountable, too,” Jansen said. “They say catchers make the best managers, because the whole field is in front of you, and you’re kind of a field general when you’re playing, always thinking a couple of pitches ahead.”

Schneider started catching in his junior year of high school, purely by necessity, when a catcher got kicked off the team. He loved everything about the position, from the gear to the decision-making and strategizing with coaches. He would have played longer as a pro, if he hadn’t had back surgeries and concussions. But he’s kept the backstopper’s mentality.

“I’m a big talker. I like to communicate and being a catcher, you have to do a lot of that,” he said. “When you’re in that position, I think people trust you. And that’s something that I don’t take lightly.”

Schneider’s wife, Jess, was a catcher, too – a softball player at St. Thomas University in Miami. She and their two boys – Gunner, 5 and Greyson, 3 – stay at home in Clearwater, Fla., for much of the regular season. She calls him in Toronto on FaceTime to bring him live at-bats from their youth baseball games, and Schneider cheers from his clubhouse office. Young Gunner is already celebrating his hits with finger-guns, just like the Blue Jays do. The couple golfs together four times a week in the off-season. They also talk a lot of baseball.

“My wife challenges me strategy-wise, but she’s also great with me in terms of my people skills,” Schneider said. “She knows the players, too, and she’ll often say, ‘Hey, have you done this? Have you checked in on so and so?’”

The Jays won 13 of 16 right after the manager change. They had a mediocre 13-14 August, before an 18-10 September thrust them into the postseason.

Schneider has appeared comfortable in the role. Before a July matinee game, he brought a live DJ into clubhouse to re-energize the group after they’d played late the night before. He was ejected from two different games for arguing strikes. Recently, he called for the intentional walk on New York Yankees superstar Aaron Judge (before he tied the AL record for 61 home runs) and loaded the bases in the 10th, orchestrating a better matchup to end the inning. He publicly criticized his team’s biggest star, Guerrero, calling a lacklustre baserunning effort “inexcusable” and saying “Vladdy flat-out needs to run harder.”

The interim manager made no bones about that.

“He was like, ‘yeah, that’s my bad’ and I said, ‘Okay, if you’re going to be one of the best players in the league, that’s not what great players do’” Schneider recounted. “He’s a young dude, he’s still 23. And I think people tend to forget that with how good he is. So we had a great conversation, and he was accountable.”

Schneider has a few more game-day jobs in this role – such as interviews – but he still tosses pitches for batting practice, as he did when bench coach. Several hitters have counted on him all year because he knows precisely where each likes the ball thrown in every round of practice, including Guerrero. (Schneider was also the guy Guerrero picked to toss to him at the 2019 home-run derby). Routine in baseball is key, so Schneider keeps showing up for BP.

“He’s authentic,” Jays general manager Ross Atkins said of the interim manager. “And exceptionally prepared.”

The Rogers Centre is about to hold playoff baseball for the first time since 2016 – also the last time the Jays made it past the wild card.

“I feel more excitement than pressure,” Schneider said. “You have to enjoy that you’re there and not take that for granted. I’ve been told a million times pressure is a privilege that not everyone gets to deal with. So you’ve got to lean into it.”