Vladimir Guerrero and The Long Arms of The Law

July 28, 2018

It was the bottom of the 9th, tie game and no one was on base. My team, the Phillies, were navigating a bullpen that had been over-taxed that week. Without any veterans available, we needed to rely on a rookie reliever to get us into extra innings. Coming to the plate was Vladimir Guerrero. The home team’s legendary slugger who was the dynamite inside the lineup of the Montreal Expos.

For years, I have watched him do things on the baseball field that defied logic and human capability. During one game, I was in centerfield and my teammate Desi Relaford was at shortstop. He hit a line drive to short that was moving like a knuckleball. It was hit so hard that Relaford reacted after the ball was past him and as the ball went by his frozen face, it had managed to singe multiple nose hairs from his face. I was so stunned in centerfield that I had a delayed reaction. Before I could complete my first cross over step to run toward the left-centerfield gap, the ball had ricocheted off the wall and was already rolling back towards the infield. Known for my speed and outfield reactions, I was in Vlad quicksand. A blend of awe and following a ball hit so hard it was beyond human comprehension. I was slower because Guerrero made me doubt physics.

Before the rookie delivered a single pitch, the manager strolled to the mound. He could tell the rookie was sweating bullets. This was a time during baseball’s history when scouting reports and analytics took a back seat to anecdotes and lore, a surefire way to scare the Phillie red right off of his uniform.

The manager left him with one tidbit of advice.

“Don’t try and trick him. If you are going to waste a pitch, we might as well just walk him intentionally. Let him hit it and we will hope it is right at someone. Oh, and he can reach anything.”

“Got it,” replied the young hurler.

Then something strange happened. After the manager headed back to the dugout, a look of relief washed over the pitcher.

Guerrero was on deck and the umpire seemed to be waiting for him to enter the batter’s box. Finally after a long 30 seconds, the umpire yelled at Guerrero.

“Come on! Let’s go! Get in the box!”

Guerrero, in stentorian voice, rejected this command firmly.

“No! I am fine right here!” He replied.

The rookie pitcher realized that he would get at least one free strike, maybe three. How hard could it be to throw strikes with no one up at bat? It was like working a bullpen session with nothing but 4-seam fastballs.

The catcher crouched, and the umpire got in position and dramatically pointed to indicate to the pitcher that he should proceed to throw.

Guerrero, unfazed, remained in the on deck circle, practicing his swing as if he had all of the time in the world.

The rookie pitcher came set. With a small grin on his face, he delivered his best fastball to the outer third of the strike zone.

Then out of his peripheral view he saw a whip-like blur come into his frame. As the ball was crossing the plate, a bat entered the zone held by fully extended arms that showcased impossible length and coordination. He heard the crack of the bat, which connected with the pinpoint strike he had just released.

After the ball sailed over the right field fence for an opposite field walk-off homerun, the rookie saw Guerrero smiling from the on deck circle, in full pose, admiring his work. He started his trot, in deep laughter as he circled the bases while his teammates poured out of the dugout to greet him at home.

The stunned pitcher stood agape until he saw one last gesture to pile onto his mind-blowing experience.

After Guerrero stepped on home plate. He high fived a young fan…

..who was sitting in the upper deck.
-Doug Glanville
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