Guerrero making his own history
Angels slugger grew up not knowing about past greats
SEATTLE -- Where Vladimir Guerrero grew up, in a small Dominican Republic village, there wasn't much technology available. He saw no grainy footage of Babe Ruth and his partner, Lou Gehrig, the greatest one-two punch in baseball history.
So, when he's asked what it means to be so close to joining Gehrig on an exclusive list of players who have produced at least 25 homers and a .300 or higher average for 11 consecutive seasons, Guerrero merely shrugs.
No, he says through interpreter Orlando Mercado, the Angels' bullpen coach. He doesn't know about the legendary "Iron Horse" of Bronx fame.
Mercado went on to explain: "There was not television in the Dominican where he grew up. He doesn't have an idol. Later on he learned about [Roberto] Clemente, Rico Carty, the players who came before him. He heard the names but never saw them play."
It seems to amaze Guerrero that he has become a hero in his native land, like Pedro Martinez and Sammy Sosa and David Ortiz and so many others.
"I feel proud people are going to look at me," Guerrero said through Mercado. "I never had an idol. I don't consider myself a [role] model. People have dreams. My dream was to play in the big show, in the big leagues."
Guerrero said he started playing self-made ballgames in the street with a broomstick at age. He's been swinging away with feeling ever since, from his homeland to Montreal to Anaheim ... and, eventually, to Cooperstown.
But that's old news and future news. What matters to Guerrero, as with all athletes under the firm hand of manager Mike Scioscia, is the moment. Guerrero was in right field in Thursday night's series finale against the Mariners, carrying his .302 average, 25 homers and 87 RBIs into the cleanup spot between Mark Teixeira and Torii Hunter.
"As a team, we're playing really good right now," Guerrero said through Mercado. "We've got the pitching and the team to do it."
By that, he meant to make some good memories in October. Like many of his teammates, Guerrero was subpar last year at this time, having experienced elbow and shoulder issues along with the familiar wear on his right knee.
Guerrero had two singles in 10 at-bats against the Red Sox in three games he'd just as soon forget. He didn't score or drive in a run, and he watched countrymen Ortiz and Manny Ramirez celebrate in his home park.
The inflammation in the knee has been an on-again, off-again matter this year. Guerrero was hitting .249 coming into June, and there were critics who wondered if the wear and tear finally had conspired to take down a great athlete.
But he began to get the knee loose as it got warmer, and the hits started coming: .375 in June, .292 in July, .298 in August, .417 in September. When he finally reached .300 on Sept. 11, it was the first time the career .323 hitter had been there in exactly five months.
Guerrero doesn't know what the future holds, whether he'll hold up well enough to play right field through the postseason or if he'll need time at designated hitter. He's not sure if he'll need surgery on the right knee, which was subjected to arthroscopic surgery in 1995.
All he knows for sure is that he'll continue to attack the game he loves with the passion he brought to his makeshift games all those years ago in Nizao, Bani, D.R. -- home of one of the greats of any generation.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.