Vlad's star turn at the All-Star game: A retrospective
The Blue Jays were represented by four All-Stars in Denver on Tuesday night, but only one superstar. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. became the first Blue Jays player, and the youngest player ever, to win an All-Star MVP award. Here’s a look back at his time in the Mile High City.
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The week had already been a big one for Vladdy heading into Tuesday night. On Monday afternoon it was announced that he’s joined the star-studded ranks of athletes sponsored by Jordan Brand.
Later on Monday night was, of course, the home run derby — an event that Vlad thoroughly impressed at when he appeared in it back in 2019. Vlad had chosen not to participate in this year’s derby, telling reporters late last month that he wants “to stay healthy for 162 games and, yes, I want to take that opportunity, those days, to rest a little bit — my body and my mind and just get ready for the second half.”
Presumably, he also didn’t want to do anything to muck about with his swing, which this season he has fine-tuned into a work of art. The Mets’ Pete Alonso, who beat Vladdy in the finals of the 2019 competition, won again. But Vlad — who, like all the other All-Stars, was there on the field on Monday — apparently was most anxious to meet a different superstar.
Fast forward to Monday, and Vlad arrived for the big game in style — with a little help from another of his fellow faces of MLB, Fernando Tatís Jr.
Vlad’s stylish exploits also extended beyond the red carpet. In the field he wore a custom first baseman’s mitt adorned with the now iconic photo of him as a small child in Expos gear on the field with his Hall of Fame father.
Vlad, as he does, started off the game conspicuously. AL manager Kevin Cash batted him second — as savvy managers do — behind Ohtani, and the youngster managed to smash what would hold up as the hardest hit ball of the night. Unfortunately for Vlad, he didn’t hit it in the air. Fortunately for him, even though it was about head high, he managed not to decapitate his future Blue Jays teammate, three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. *COUGH*
It was, of course, in his next at-bat that Guerrero truly put his stamp on the game. With two outs in the third, Milwaukee Brewers ace Corbin Burnes threw a slider to a spot where you, uh, do not want to throw pitches to Vladdy.
The result was as spectacular as it was predictable: a 468 foot moonshot — the longest of Vlad’s career — into the thin Colorado air.
The immediate reactions of Tatís Jr. — who was in the middle of conducting an in-game interview when Vlad smashed it — and Burnes really said it all.
Of course, they were far from the only ones in the ballpark who were impressed.
Worth noting here that this was the 13th farthest hit baseball of the season — an impressive feat considering it came in the All-Star game off a pitcher with video game-like numbers this year. Burnes has struck out 128 and walked just 15 over 87 2/3 innings, leading to a 2.36 ERA, a 1.37 FIP, and 4.2 fWAR. Of the 345 batters he's faced this season, only three had hit the ball over the fence before this run-in with Vlad.
Vlad would go on to pick up another RBI on a groundout in the fifth — cashing in teammate Teoscar Hernández, who had led off the inning with a double. Hernández would later say that he knew he had to score in order to help Vlad’s MVP chances, something the Blue Jays’ contingent was clearly cognizant of throughout the game.
“All he’s thinking about right now is the MVP,” Hernández said during the seventh, according to the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. “When I was at third and he was hitting, I was ready to score because he needed that RBI to get more chances to win the MVP. I said, ‘If he wins the MVP, he has to give me something. Not half, but something.’”
The positivity and high spirits that Blue Jays fans have become accustomed from their group of young players to were on full display to the world in Denver, and it was really a joy to watch.
Guerrero gestured in mock outrage at Aaron Judge when the Yankees slugger failed to score on a double by Rafael Devers. He flexed his arms in a weight-lifting motion after Fernando Tatis Jr. flied out to center, teasing his friend and fellow Dominican for being too weak to hit a homer. He took a selfie in the dugout with Rays first-base coach Ozzie Timmons, who later acknowledged, “I mess with him at first all the time.”
Importantly, he adds:
Not that Guerrero is incapable of being serious. He held a Stand Up To Cancer sign in honor of the Orioles’ Trey Mancini, who participated in the Home Run Derby after missing the 2020 season with colon cancer. And in the post-game ceremony announcing his MVP award, he paid tribute to his father, Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr.
The MVP award did, of course, end up in Guerrero’s hands at the end of the game, as the AL beat the NL by a score of 5-2. And it’s a good thing, too. Vlad might have had some angry teammates otherwise!
The bond between these Jays players really is impossible not to notice.
Their humility is hard not to notice either.
The Blue Jays team as a whole may not be quite on the level of its young superstar just yet, but there is no better recruitment tool available to the front office right now than the beaming face of their boy wonder and the infectious amounts of fun seemingly had by everyone within his orbit.
Things change, people change, the arcs of careers and franchises are long and often unpredictable. We can’t know how the future of the Toronto Blue Jays will go, but we certainly know that this is a moment worth savouring. We can also know that the team appears to be in great hands. An All-Star game MVP obviously isn’t the most important trophy in the grand scheme of things, but for Vlad to be this good, this young, and this important to the game of baseball is an incredible reality that is unlike anything Jays fans have ever experienced. The man has stuff headed to the Hall of Fame and he’s only 22!
I tend to not be a huge fan of All-Star games, in general. I tell myself that they’re for marketing. They’re for the kids. They’re not for me anymore. But this one ended up being for the biggest kid of all, and boy did he deliver. Vlad’s performance was pure entertainment and an outstanding reminder that this Blue Jays team deserves help as the trade deadline approaches, and deserves to come home to their fans in Toronto (which sadly isn’t sounding as likely at the moment as it did earlier in the week).
The game, the performance, the camaraderie showed, I think, that baseball is at its best right now when the Blue Jays on its biggest stage. Baseball needs the Blue Jays —this season, and for a long time to come.
What a world! And congrats, Vlad.
Top image via @MLB