From Dad’s speech to Drake’s embrace: Inside Vlad Jr.’s Toronto welcome

TORONTO — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. stood wide-eyed outside the Raptors‘ locker room on Saturday night as a familiar figure headed over and embraced him, saying, “Welcome to the city, man.”

Vladdy Jr., meet Drake. Drake, Vladdy Jr. Only in Toronto.

Less than 48 hours earlier, Guerrero was sitting at breakfast with his grandparents, Altagracia and Damián, imagining what his much-anticipated major league debut would be like. While he ate his breakfast, he pictured making contact with the ball in his first at-bat. He thought about his heroics in Montreal in exhibition games and how fans would be expecting more of the same, but making contact was all he wanted. “Just wait for a good pitch, make contact and don’t strike out,” he said to himself.

Major League Baseball had reached out to present him with his father’s Montreal Expos jersey to wear to the ballpark on Friday. Guerrero had the option of wearing the classic powder blue jersey, but opted for the pinstripes everyone had come to know from a legendary picture of Junior, then 5 years old, standing next to his father.

He hugged his grandparents before making the trek to the service elevator that connects Rogers Centre to the team hotel, posing for a few pictures with dumbfounded fans along the way, only to find himself walking what felt like a mile to the newly remodeled Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse.

The first person he saw in the clubhouse, which was larger and brighter than he remembered, was outfielder Billy McKinney, whose first words were, “You look really good; have you lost weight?” Guerrero gave the outfielder a bear hug as McKinney congratulated him on his promotion.

As Guerrero headed to his locker, in between those of pitcher Clay Buchholz and catcher Luke Maile, he thought about whether there would be questions about his weight. He was very proud of losing 22 pounds, but at the same time, he didn’t care. This day, his first day in the majors, was about so much more than that.

Dozens of cameras followed his every step. When he walked out to the field for stretch, Justin Smoak and Teoscar Hernandez razzed him about the attention. He laughed and took it in stride, as throngs of media captured his every move.

It wasn’t overwhelming. “It was actually kind of funny … and fun. And really, I am used to it,” he’d go on to say.

Guerrero spoke to his dad briefly before the game. As Senior addressed the media, Junior picked up his bat, which is the same size and weight as his father’s, 34 inches and 32 ounces, and headed to the cage. He yelled in Spanish, asking his father if he had seen Smoak, who wanted to say hello; Senior said he had.

After one of the most documented and photographed batting practices in Rogers Centre history, “Vladdy” (as he has been nicknamed by the media) made sure to stop in front of the dugout to give a hug to his grandma and introduce her to teammate Rowdy Tellez, who thanked her in his limited Spanish for all the food she cooked for them in the minors and during the spring. Doña Altagracia smiled and hugged them both goodbye.

Guerrero looked forward to some quiet time with his teammates. Inside the clubhouse, they made fun of him because of all the media attention, but there was no rookie hazing. He was ready; he knew he belonged, and always had. He felt right at home.

As the Rogers Centre faithful, almost 30,000 strong, clapped and cheered his coming-out party as Toronto’s newest star, Guerrero focused on the task at hand. Part of the reason why he seems wise beyond his years is because he has grown up with full awareness that after all the hype, the real work still has to be done.

He accomplished his goal in his first at-bat — he made contact, no striking out. At the end of the game, he was given the lineup card and the ball of his first major league hit, a ninth-inning, opposite-field double down the right-field line that led to the game’s winning run. Guerrero wanted to keep his game jersey, but Major League Baseball requested it. He also set aside his game bat, got it authenticated, and would go on to present it to his dad.

Dad approves!

Marly Rivera, ESPN Writer3d ago

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. saved the lineup card and the ball from his first major league hit (a double that ended up being the winning run). He said he’ll be giving everything to his father! (Picture courtesy of Blue Jays PR)

Marly Rivera, ESPN Writer3d ago

His family’s postgame celebration was intense and continued well into the night. He spent time with them, but then retired to his room and spent a few hours answering congratulatory texts, and exchanging messages with close friends, including Lourdes Gurriel Jr., before passing out.

Saturday became less about anticipation and more about getting ready to enjoy the ride. The emotions of the first 24 hours were there, but Guerrero was able to follow his pregame routine closely and felt much more relaxed. He didn’t contribute to the team’s second win of the series in a major way, but was happy for Eric Sogard and Brandon Drury as the heroes of the victory.

Guerrero was disappointed in his plate discipline in his second game. He struck out twice, once with bases loaded and no outs, for which he got an earful from fans during the game … and from his father afterward.

“That can’t happen,” his father, a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, said as they headed out of the ballpark after the Jays’ win. “That’s not what you know to do.”

He knew Senior was right.

That night, Guerrero got an invitation to attend Game 1 of the NBA’s Eastern Conference semifinals between the Raptors and Sixers, but he was not in a celebratory mood. Even though the Jays had won again with him in the lineup, he was disappointed in his showing, and just wanted to get some rest. Then he reconsidered, especially because he knew his favorite artist, Drake, would be there.

VIDEO: Here’s Vladdy walking into Scotiabank Arena for Game 1 of the Raptors-76ers series.

Marly Rivera, ESPN Writer2d ago

As Guerrero walked into the arena in the third quarter, he was met by the glowing smiles of joyous fans who chanted his name. And when his “Red Carpet Welcome” was shown on the scoreboard, which included a personalized No. 27 Raptors jersey, he knew he had made the right choice. It was exhilarating to feel like he was truly a part of the 6ix.

He was ushered through the bowels of Scotiabank Arena to the Raptors’ locker room, and as he stood there, looking very much like a 20-year-old kid in a candy store, the moment he had waited for finally came. Drake walked over, hugged Guerrero and welcomed him to Toronto.

VIDEO: Drake welcomes Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to the City of Toronto after the Raptors beat the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Saturday.

Marly Rivera, ESPN Writer2d ago

Vladdy Jr. was speechless. The Guerrero smile was there, but his English skills went out the window. He posed for pictures with his idol, but as he headed out, he couldn’t believe this is how his day would end, from on-field disappointment to pure elation that he was here, now.

An incredible 48 hours for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who met his favorite singer, Drake, after Toronto defeated Philadelphia 108-95 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. He’s accompanied by his sister Vlaimi.

Marly Rivera, ESPN Writer2d ago

Outside the arena, his familiar blond dreads caused a commotion among fans, and he felt overwhelmed by the attention and the selfie requests. At a distance, he saw a familiar figure, former Blue Jays pitcher Ricky Romero, who expertly helped him navigate a way to the exit.

Guerrero would go on to have a quiet third game of the series, in particular when compared with Drury and Sogard in their sweep of the Athletics. And while he was disappointed, he rejoiced with his teammates and dreamed of new possibilities for a season in which many have all but written off the Jays.

Guerrero’s transition from baseball’s top prospect to a bona fide major league star may not happen overnight, but he is certainly going to enjoy the ride. He takes Drake’s advice from his song “Tuscan Leather” to heart: “Accept yourself. You don’t have to prove s— to no one except yourself.”

Author: InGame Sports

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