Page 84 - Sharp September 2021
P. 84

 84 SEPTEMBER 2021
INSIDE THE DUGOUT OF THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS, during a game against the Texas Rangers this April, Vladi- mir Guerrero Jr. sat with his arm around Bo Bichette, gently massaging his shoulder. The two friends — who played a combined four years of minor league baseball together, first for the Lansing Lugnuts and then in the Class-A Florida State League — have been teammates in the Blue Jays system for
more than four years. That’s a long time when you’re 22, like Vlady, or 23, like Bo. Each man earns more than $500,000 and is surrounded by a phalanx of people: agents, loved ones, personnel. There are con- tracts, merchandising deals, individual accolades, and fame at stake.
But Guerrero, who learned about life and baseball from his Hall-of-Famer dad Vlad Sr., maintains that, in the dugout, all of them recede into the background. Sitting there with his friend, he says the only thing on his mind is his team’s success.
“We spend more time around each other than we do with our families,” said Guerrero in early July, over Zoom from Buffalo, New York, where the Jays were playing their home games due to the travel restrictions of COVID. The Blue Jays returned to Toronto on July 30, but they spent more time away from their ballpark than any other Major League Baseball team. During the pandemic, and maybe always, men can drift into alienation and isolation. It’s important, even moving, to see two tough guys — power-hitting professional athletes — express their closeness. Guerrero, through his interpreter, says the gesture is unconscious and long-standing. “Bo and I are like brothers and sometimes we express that physically; we always have. The only difference now is all of the cameras of the major leagues.”
Successful campaigns in the major leagues live and die by the players’ camaraderie, says Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo, who has spent most of his life playing and coaching the game. Lots of teams are good and plenty of players have talent — you don’t make it to the show if you’re not preternaturally skilled — but what makes teams special is the trust, the loyalty between teammates. Montoyo says the most important part of his job isn’t crafting line- ups or designing squeeze plays. It’s maintaining a brotherly vibe, a belief in the system, as the cliché goes, a universal buy-in. This was

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