Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Blasts His Way Into the Spotlight with All-Star Game MVP
DENVER – From his birth in 1999, the year of his father’s first All-Star selection, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had to stand out. When he signed with the Toronto Blue Jays at the age of 16, the spotlight was brighter.
“There was some hype around him, purely based on his name,” said Chicago White Sox closest Liam Hendriks, who played for Toronto when Guerrero turned pro. “And then he came and trained at batting – and at 16 it was something special.”
Tuesday night at Coors Field, Guerrero went from prodigy to fully trained superstar. With an imposing homerun and a scoring ground player, Guerrero won an award that eluded his Hall of Fame father: Most Valuable Player in the All-Star Game.
The American League has won 5-2 for its eighth consecutive victory and its 20th in the last 24 All-Star Games. The evening had an international vibe: the winning pitcher, Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, is Japanese; Hendriks, who got the stop, is Australian; and Guerrero is Dominican via Canada, where he was born while his father played for the Montreal Expos.
“We are now looking at a global game,” said Hendriks, later adding, “Shohei is a traveling billboard that will hopefully attract more Japanese and sooner.”
Several veterans refused to attend this year’s event despite being healthy enough to play for their teams: Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros, Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jacob deGrom of the Mets and others. Against this backdrop, Ohtani stood out as a particularly good sport, competing enthusiastically in the Home Run Derby on Monday, then serving as the AL’s starting pitcher and designated hitter on Tuesday.
He started the game with a ground in second – the NL played in a quarter, even for a show – then pulled the team in order at the end of the first on a fly out and two ground outs. Ohtani took another at bat, sinking to first base, then finally relaxed.
“It was definitely a lot more tiring compared to the regular season, but if everyone was having fun, that’s fine with me,” Ohtani said through a performer, later adding: “If more people watch baseball, it makes me happy, it’s good for the sport.
Ohtani didn’t win an award, didn’t score a strike or hit base. But he detonated a ball 500 feet in the Home Run Derby and threw a ball 100 miles per hour into the game, a mind-boggling mix of skill.
“He’s out of this world,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “He’s not from here. He’s amazing, I don’t even know what to say. Pitch, hit, incredible.
Guerrero is enjoying his own thrilling season, leading the majors on average (.332), base percentage (.430) and RBI (73), to go with 28 home runs. He and Ohtani were part of the record 42 All-Stars for the first time here, and after a pre-game tribute for Hank Aaron – whose widow, Billye, was escorted onto the pitch by Aaron Judge and Freddie Freeman – the game heralded a future led by players like Guerrero, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Juan Soto, who are only 22 years old.
“The point is, they’re very excited, but they’re very curious,” said Dave Roberts of the Dodgers, who led the National League team. “They are what this game is about and what this game will be for the next decade. For me, as a guy that’s been around for a while, you have to come to terms with this. This youthful energy is fantastic.
Guerrero’s night could have taken a darker turn early in the first, when he burned a ball just in front of starter Max Scherzer’s header. Second baseman Adam Frazier lined him up and sent off Guerrero, who then wrapped Scherzer in a hug. On Monday, Scherzer had told Guerrero to take it easy with him.
“I’m alive and I wasn’t hit by the bullet – it’s my achievement,” Scherzer told reporters, adding: “I’m just grateful that I still have one blue eye and one brown eye.”
Guerrero pointed skyward after his third inning homerun, which landed deep in the center-left stands on a suspended slider from defeated Corbin Burnes of Milwaukee. Guerrero had told some Blue Jays teammates he would win the MVP title, but they could have predicted it anyway.
“When he hit him, it was kind of like, ‘It was there, we were waiting for him,’ said Blue Jays shortstop Bo Bichette. “And then how far he hit him, it’s not really surprising either. He is incredible. Big scenes, he always does.
There were other highlights to watch – Guerrero’s RBI on the ground in the fifth extended the AL’s lead to 3-0; Mike Zunino of the Rays drilled an opposite homerun at second bridge on sixth; and Jared Walsh of the Angels, playing left field for the first time in the majors, slipped catch to finish eighth with goals loaded.
But the MVP was Guerrero’s to the end, a fitting cap for the player who received the most fan votes. The child who accompanied his father to the All-Star Game is now the youngest MVP in the history of the game.
“Dreams come true,” Guerrero said. “Ever since I was a child, I thought about this moment; worked all my life, very hard. Thank goodness this is happening right now.
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