The Current·Q&A

'His hugs were ... like my son's': Alek Manoah's billet mom on hosting the Blue Jays pitcher in Vancouver

Usha Tkachyk, Alek Manoah's billet mom in Vancouver, feels excitement and nerves as Toronto Blue Jays ace gets set to open his team's playoff campaign.

Usha Tkachyk cheers on Manoah, who will start Friday's playoff opener vs. the Seattle Mariners

Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah stayed in Usha Tkachyk's home during his playing days with the Vancouver Canadians minor league team. (Philip G. Pavely/The Associated Press)

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Thousands of fans will be cheering Alek Manoah on when he takes the mound in the Toronto Blue Jays playoff opener Friday afternoon. But one of his loudest supporters will be Vancouver's Usha Tkachyk, his billet mom during his stint with the Vancouver Canadians.

"This is Game 1, so we'll see how far we go," she told The Current's Matt Galloway. "I'm cheering [for] him all the way."

Tkachyk hosted Manoah at her family home when he joined the Canadians, a minor league team, in 2019. She provided housing and support for the Florida native so he could pursue his sports dream far from home.

She recalled that Manoah reminded her of her son Tyler, who died in a scooter accident the year prior.

"He was very much like my son, this gentle giant," she said. "He's a big guy. My son was very similar to him — not as big, but a big teddy-bear demeanour."

I think his soul connected to mine, and it was the best experience. ​​​​​​-Usha Tkachyk

Here's part of Tkachyk's conversation with Galloway.

How did you end up being the host family for a young baseball player who turned out to be a real star?

In 2000, there was an ad in the newspaper. They were looking for housing families close to the [Nat Bailey Stadium], and I'm a five-minute walk to the stadium. 

My son also [played] baseball just right across the stadium. He played Little League and he used to always go to the stadium and watch the games. 

But then when I saw the ad in the paper ... it was just another way for me to take my kids to the game and not have to worry about being financially strained. 

It was the best thing I've ever done for my children. My daughter worked there, my son worked there, I even worked there — up until this year even, after I retired. 

Usha Tkachyk (right) hosted Toronto Blue Jays ace pitcher Alek Manoah when he played for the Vancouver Canadians in 2019. (Submitted by Usha Tkachyk)

Alek Manoah was the very last player that stayed with me because now the players are staying at UBC [University of British Columbia]. So it's been an incredible, incredible experience for me personally and for my family.

When he was living in your house, what was he like?

His hugs were very much like my son's. My son passed away a year before Alek Manoah stayed with me. So it was just an incredible experience for me to relive those hugs, which I missed so much. 

I think his soul connected to mine, and it was the best experience. 

I've had many players stay with me. But I mean, he was just a very easy [person] to connect with. We would sit at the kitchen table and talk — and the way he talked about his mom, I was sold. 

Because he grew up with a single mom as well, right?

Exactly, and I think that was another reason that I was very connected to him, because the way he just talked about his mom, his eyes just lit up. You can tell that he's just a genuine soul. 

I mean, I've only known him for a short time when he stayed with me in the summer. But you get to know a person very quickly when they open up their soul.

The Jays are now [in] the wild card [series] and looking to the future of the playoffs. Have you managed to keep in touch with him?

I messaged him on Friday, a week ago, when they were playing and when they clinched the playoff spot. I [texted] congratulations to him, great pitching.

Then he responded — obviously, the next day because it was too busy celebrating Friday — "thank you so much" and "now the fun begins." 

Produced by Alison Masemann. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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