One of the most hyped young baseball players in the country right now happens to have a Fisher Cat on his uniform.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of soon-to-be Hall of Famer Vlad Sr., is playing third base for the minor league New Hampshire Fisher Cats this season.
He’s generating national attention, and a buzz around the Manchester ballpark.
Even casual baseball fans have probably heard about Guerrero Jr. by now. The 19-year old hits baseballs, and he hits them hard.
“He’s the best hitter I’ve seen come through the minor leagues in my 17 years in baseball,” says Fisher Cats manager John Schneider. “Born to hit, man.”
The Fisher Cats are a minor league affiliate for the Toronto Blue Jays. While most Double-A ball clubs can fly under the radar when they travel, with Guerrero on the roster, this one can’t.
“No doubt, we show up at hotels at midnight, and there’s like fifty people waiting for a bus,” says Schneider. “We’re like a boy band.”
A baseball boy band, but instead of Tiger Beat or Tumblr, Guerrero is getting mentions in the New York Times sports section, and popular sports sites including Deadspin.
Speaking through an interpreter just after batting practice this week, Guerrero, who is Dominican, says off the field, he’s living a very non-rock star life in Manchester.
His grandmother cooks for him, though he occasionally heads to Don Quixote restaurant for a bite of Caribbean food.
Otherwise, it’s all baseball.
“He says he has to work on everything,” says Guerrero’s interpreter. “He just come over here and try to work on everything. Hitting and defense, as well.”
Guerrero may have inherited his dad’s talent, but he’s a different player. While Vlad Senior was long and lean in right field, Junior is shorter, more muscular, and is a third baseman. His chin-length dreadlocks sneak out from under his cap.
While understated with the media, his stats right now are otherworldly: hitting around .420, he’s reached base in all but two games this year.
Before the first pitch earlier this week, fans are leaning over the railing asking for his autograph.
“Oh, we’re here just for Vlad. He’s phenomenal,” says Eric Beauchamp, who is visiting New Hampshire from Quebec.
Beauchamp was able to get his Guerrero jersey autographed. If you want your own Guerrero shirt, good luck.
“So we’ve been out for a week now, I just can’t keep them on the shelves,” says Fisher Cats merchandize manager Sam Stawarz.
Number 27 jerseys are selling out. The games are not. Midweek in May against the Portland Sea Dogs, there are just a few thousand fans in the stand.
Not exactly how legends are made.
But in the bottom of the third inning, with the game tied at two, Guerrero comes to bat with his teammate Bo Bichette, the son of another famous major leaguer Dante Bichette, on third base.
The big righty turns on one, driving the ball to deep left center. It soars over the wall, giving the Cats a lead they’d expand in later innings.
Michael Elkavitch from the town of Dublin comes to a lot of Fisher Cats games. He’s seen plenty of hot prospects like Guerrero play here but fail to find success in the big leagues.
Does he think Guerrero has what it takes?
“It’s hard to say. When you are hitting as well as he is, yeah, maybe. But then of course you get to the major leagues, and all of a sudden, you never know what’s going to happen,” says Elkavitch. “I hope he’s ready. I hope he stays for a lot longer, though.”
This report comes from the New England News Collaborative, eight public media companies including Rhode Island Public Radio, joining together to tell stories of a changing region with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.