30 Seasons on City Island: Vladimir Guerrero
This content was originally found in Issue No. 1 of this year’s Senators Program
Vladimir Guerrero arrived in Harrisburg on May 1st of the 1996 season with a surrounding hype and frenzy that wouldn’t be seen again until the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper arrived on City Island. Teammates, fans, and scouts all marveled at Guerrero’s cannon from right field, his ability to bash any pitch no matter where it was located, and his gazelle-like strides on the basepaths.
Baseball had been an escape for Guerrero. An escape from the bleak future and abject living conditions in his southeastern Dominican Republic town, Nizao. Guerrero’s home had a dirt floor and a roof covered only by palm leaves. With no electricity and no running water, the future All-Star was forced to drink from puddles as a child. Rather than go to school, Guerrero worked the fields, harvesting tomatoes, melons, and onions since his family of 11 needed him to work. What time he had left, he spent on the sandlots with his brothers and cousins playing baseball with what could be best described generously as second-hand equipment.
But during that summer in 1996, Guerrero once again found himself playing baseball on an island. This time though, it was located in the middle of the Susquehanna River and he proudly wore the Senators script across his chest every day.0000
Most players need an adjustment period when promoted to the upper levels of the minors. Guerrero clearly didn’t as he crushed his first class AA home run deep into the night sky during that day’s doubleheader.
But that was just a prelude to one of the most spectacular seasons on City Island.
In his first 25 games with the Senators, Guerrero batted .424 with seven home runs, 11 doubles, and 22 runs batted in. For his efforts, he was named the Eastern League player of the week twice in his first three weeks in the league.
Over the next four-plus months, the top-ranked Expos prospect would lead the league in batting, slug 59 of his 150 hits for extra bases, and lead the team to a championship a season after finishing with the worst record in the league.
“He put the team squarely on his broad shoulders and took them to the promised land. He was the league’s MVP and the most feared hitter in all of baseball that year,” remembered Senators’ broadcaster Mark Mattern. “The last time I saw Vladimir, and that infectious smile, was just before he left Portland, Maine, a few hours after the final out of the winning game. The next day he was in the big leagues.”
“He never got a championship in Montreal—or anywhere else. That doesn’t change what he was: a player who was truly beyond belief. When I’m old and grey, and most of my other memories have escaped me, I’ll still tell my great grandkids about Vladimir Guerrero. Some people you just never forget.” – – author Jonah Keri
“He’s one of the wonders of our world. He leaves us all in complete amazement. He’s so natural, so pure. What he hits just isn’t hittable to the rest of us. He’s one of the most unique players ever.” – -teammate Michael Barrett
“The greatest description of Vladimir Guerrero I ever heard was that he swings like he’s hitting a tennis racket. All he has to do is get some part of the bat on the ball, and he’s going to crush it.” – – sports columnist Jeff Blair
“In all the years I have managed, and all the players I have managed who have gone on to the big leagues, I don’t know if I’ve seen anyone with the presence he has.” – – Harrisburg manager Pat Kelly
“Who do you want me to compare him to? I’ve never seen anyone do what he does.” – – former Los Angeles Dodgers’ second baseman and longtime coach Davey Lopes
“He scares me when he comes up there. There’s not anywhere I can throw the ball where he can’t hit it, and he’s trying to hit it right at my head!” – – pitcher Scott Sauerbeck
“Vladimir Guerrero may not make anyone forget Roberto Clemente, but he may make a lot of people remember him.” – – Trenton photographer Dave Schofield
“He’s Superman, and there’s not too much kryptonite in the league.” – – teammate Rondell White
- 2004 American League MVP
- 2,590 hits ranks second all-time among Dominican-born players
- 9-time All-Star
- 8-time Silver Slugger Award
- 2007 Home Run Derby champion
- .318 career batting average
- 449 home runs
- 1996 Eastern League MVP and Rookie of the Year