Family tradition leads Guerrero Jr. to Clemente nomination

September 17th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson’s Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. launched a three-run homer on Friday against the Red Sox, he finished his parade through the dugout and found the nearest camera.

Guerrero pointed to the No. 21 patch on his chest, holding his jersey up for the broadcast to see. It was Roberto Clemente Day, honoring the Hall of Famer and 15-time All-Star who died in a plane crash on New Year's Eve 1972 while attempting to deliver supplies to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Guerrero is this year’s Blue Jays nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award. Prior to the game, he was recognized on the field with a presentation from coach Luis Rivera who, like Clemente, is Puerto Rican.

Over the past year, Guerrero and his family have started the VG27 Foundation, which has formalized and helped grow the work they were already doing in their community in the Dominican Republic. This isn’t new to Guerrero, who has seen the work his father did in his home country growing up, but now he’s taking the torch.

“It’s very emotional for me. I feel very grateful to do this, and I learned that from my dad,” Guerrero said through a club interpreter. “Since I’ve been a kid, he would do that all the time to help kids, help other people, help the community. I want to follow in his footsteps. There is nothing more satisfying than, every 24th of December, to give something to kids who don’t have anything. When we give something to a kid, it’s a feeling that I cannot describe.”

The Christmas holiday is a core focus of the VG27 Foundation. Last winter, Guerrero, his family and close friends distributed full holiday meal kits to over 1,000 families in the Don Gregorio, Nizao and Sabana Grande de Palenque areas.

These moments put Guerrero in a unique place, between the child he once was and the man he’s become. The holidays, in particular, bring back those memories.

“When I was younger, it was a blessing,” Guerrero said. “Because of my dad, we celebrated Christmas with everything, a lot of food, lots of toys. I think that’s the reason I am like that with kids in my community. When I give a gift to one kid, it feels like my dad giving a gift to me. It’s a blessing.”

This includes Three Kings Day, a Latin American holiday which is an established Guerrero family tradition. Guerrero hosted a Toy Drive around this time last offseason, delivering toys to more than 500 children from Don Gregorio and its region to ensure that children within these communities receive a new toy during the holidays.

Healthcare has been another priority for Guerrero in his home community. Guerrero has financed an initiative to bring healthcare professionals from Santo Domingo to his hometown regularly to help residents with vaccinations, prescriptions and any ailments free of charge.

So many of these ideas have grown from the work his father has done in the nearly three decades since making his MLB debut, and the Guerreros continue to do it as a family.

“We always do this and all of my family is involved in this,” Guerrero said. “When it’s time for us to help the community, everybody gets together as a family. We decided to do it the right way and build a foundation and it’s been perfect, how it happened.”

Establishing this foundation officially is by no means the beginning of Guerrero’s work, but he hopes that it will help him to expand the work he and his family are capable of doing.

This work is a family tradition, and if history is any lesson, we’ll be hearing about another great Guerrero carrying on this work a generation from now.