Arriving in the Blue Jays clubhouse and eyeballing a dozen-odd media mooks — a larger-than-usual contingent of baseball chroniclers in these D-List days — Joe Biagini asks the reflexive question: “Whoa, is Vlad Jr. here?”
Luke Maile, from his locker cubicle chair, fields that one. “Nah, he’s still on the plane.”
“All right guys, I have an announcement to make,” the skipper teased, and only after he’d bandied a respectful number of questions from reporters about his team’s 4-0 Saturday matinee loss to the Giants. “Uhhh, we’re planning to call Vladdy Guerrero up for Friday’s game. All right? We’re planning to.”
So, like, will the Second Coming VGJ — literally, the second coming of Vladimir Guerrero Sr. — the larger-than-life No. 1 prospect in all of baseball, the franchise gem and corporate meal-ticket, actually play in the weekend opener versus Oakland?
“Will he play? Yeesss.”
It has been like pulling teeth out of this organization, getting the lowdown on Guerrero, dangled out there as an enticement, then reeled back in. Anticipated around mid-April, when the service clock on team control juddered — that extra year of Jays bondage before free agency kicks in — yet held annoyingly at bay.
To wit: This tweet early Wednesday evening from Buffalo teammate Bo Bichette, now out with a busted hand.
“You’ve become like a brother to me and I can’t wait to watch you play. Wayyyyyy overdue. Yo te amo.”
Junior flashed a honking huge clue too, even before Montoyo confirmed what had been widely speculated — just one more sleep and ta-da. Guerrero yesterday afternoon changed his Instagram bio to “Toronto Blue Jays.”
Social media also threw up, you should forgive the expression, phone video of Guerrero in his slippers and capri pants, getting high-fived in a hallway corridor.
“It’s a big moment for the Toronto Blue Jays,” Montoyo said. “It’s going to be good for all of us — the city of Toronto, Blue Jays, the organization.”
Makes it sound like an investiture. One might almost pity 20-year-old Vladdy, given all this hype and drooling anticipation. Except he’s clearly just jiggy with it. Expectations roll off his broad back, drip like beads of sweat from his peroxide-tip dreadlocks.
Montoyo has been asked the question six ways from Sunday: When? When? When? Hardly as if it was the manager’s call, though. That would be an executive order. And they’ve put out endlessly shape-shifting explanations for the Vlad delay: Not MLB-ready, still working on his preparations, his reps, his routines, his at-bats. Too fat.
He is, purportedly, some 10 pounds lighter now than he was at spring training. We’ll all see on Friday — press conference scheduled — because Thursday is an off-day for the team.
A few dubious reporters wondered if Guerrero was actually already in Toronto, following his ridiculously early (10:30) Triple-A Buffalo game against the Syracuse Mets.
“He’s not here yet,” Montoyo promised. “He’s not in my office hiding behind my congas.”
In fact, Montoyo had yet to speak with Guerrero, whom he’d last seen in spring training before the big, bouncing, baby Blue Jay strained an oblique muscle and disappeared from the major-league camp.
“It’s not my job to talk to him,” Montoyo said. “I’ll talk to him when he gets here.”
That break-the-news square-up belonged to Buffalo manager Bobby Meacham and Gil Kim, the director of player development. “Just like I used to do when I was in Triple-A,” Montoyos said. “I wouldn’t take that moment away from them.”
Montoyo had spoken at some length about the dawning of the Vladdy Era in his pre-game confab with beat writers, touched off by breaking news about the kid having just belted his third home run of the season, in his eighth 2019 game with the Bisons — a turbocharged swat over the right field fence, going the other way, in a game that Buffalo would win on the soon-to-be-ex-Bison’s seventh-inning, go-ahead solo shot. He was hitting .367 with 8 RBIs in 30 at-bats, and had just played three games in a row for the first time this season.
“He hit a home run today?” Montoyo asked, with a big grin splitting his face.
“You know, the funny thing about it, I haven’t seen him play. I just, I hear everything from everybody else. Which I believe what people say. But that’s the only time I saw him, in spring training, the 20 at-bats that I saw.
“But, yeah, I think he’ll come here and do well, for sure.”
The skipper hasn’t decided where Vladdy will hit in the lineup. He hasn’t decided who will come out of that lineup to make way for Guerrero, slotted for third base and some DH. Any roster adjustments will be announced on Friday. It could be an easier call if Freddie Galvis, whose Iron Man streak of 349 games came to an end Wednesday, goes on the IL with his sore hamstring.
(And it really does deserve a pause, a salute, now that it’s over. Which is why Montoyo gave Galvis a man-hug after the game. “I told him I’m proud of him and I’m very lucky to have you as one of my players. You should be proud of yourself. And he thanked me. Now we have to see how he feels in a couple of days.”
The only advice Montoyo, who sent so many future stars into The Show when he was managing in Triple-A, could summon for Guerrero: “Just relax and play. Just like I told you at spring training. And he will. He’s an easy kid to talk to.”
Trivia factoid, from Wednesday starter and loser Clay Buchholz who looked jim-dandy out of chute, nine-up nine-down against the Giants before a leadoff single in the fourth:
“I told (Guerrero) that his dad was the first hit that I gave up in the big leagues,” Buchholz said.
Buchholz had stayed in Dunedin at the start of the year to rehab, and Guerrero was there in extended spring training.
“I got to see a little bit of him when I was down in Florida, when the team left. He’s pretty special. It was fun to watch him in the box. I actually pitched to him a couple of times. He definitely hit a really hard ball off of me.”
Buchholz is among the few active moundsmen who could draw a pitch bead on Guerreros Jr. and Sr.
“His dad swung at everything. I think he has a little bit better eye than his dad.”
New Jays Day dawning — Friday.
Rosie DiManno is a columnist based in Toronto covering sports and current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @rdimanno