How Vlad Jr.-Teoscar friendship centers Blue Jays

September 8th, 2022

There is a spot in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse that’s known for its brightness and levity. A comfortable couch is strategically placed in front of two lockers with two of the biggest names on the team, and which have become a hub of simplicity even in hectic times.

That’s where you’ll find Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and .

Through luck or choice, the pair of Dominican stars have found a piece of home in each other. That has proven particularly valuable in a season filled with thrills and frustrations, injuries and slumps, clutch hits and near-misses for a team on a mission to return to the postseason.

“It all comes down to trust,” Guerrero said, in Spanish, from his locker at Rogers Centre. “I feel like he’s part of my family. He’s like a big brother.”

Baseball was the starting point for that brotherly bond, but trust turned it into something more far-reaching. From the early days of his tenure with the Blue Jays’ organization, back in 2017 when he was traded from the Astros, Hernández felt a sense of kinship toward the Hall of Famer’s son with the sizzling swing.

There was common ground in their native country and language. And even though they’re seven years apart in age and grew up with very distinct realities, their values aligned seamlessly.

“It’s like we were born to have this friendship,” said Hernández, in Spanish. “From the first moment I met him, I knew we were going to have a good relationship. And it’s only gotten better with time.”

Hernández didn’t grow up with the same comfort as Guerrero, who split time between the Dominican, the United States and Canada as the son of one of the most successful MLB players of his generation. Instead, the unheralded 30-year-old from Cotuí grinded his way toward an international signing with the Astros and finally found his place with the Blue Jays in 2018, just before Guerrero made his Major League debut as one of the most touted prospects of the decade.

Still, through love of the game, an appreciation of family and similarly bubbly personalities, their friendship blossomed. There was a lot to learn from and about one another.

“He’s been rich since before he was born,” said Hernández of Guerrero. “And still, nothing makes him happier than being with his friends, his teammates and his family.”

That joy is now part of the Blue Jays’ fabric.

Guerrero’s and Hernández’s lockers -- naturally side by side in the team’s clubhouse -- are a type of hub for any teammate looking for support or simply a moment of levity. The dynamic developed organically, and it fit well with their identity.

Everyone in the organization appreciates that gravitational pull toward two of its biggest stars, especially through the rigors of an inconsistent 2022 season.

“We do this every day, and it does get very redundant,” said Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider. “And to have those guys be constant [is important]. They’re really good players and they’re really good people.”

It certainly would have been a tougher year had they not been there for each other.

When Guerrero went through arguably the first significant cold spell of his Major League career back in May -- less than a year removed from 48 home runs and a second-place finish in AL MVP votes -- Hernández was there to mentor him through it. The opposite was also true, when Hernández was sidelined for three weeks with an oblique injury and toiled through hard times at the plate after back-to-back Silver Slugger campaigns in the past two seasons.

Day after day, they helped each other rediscover their love for the sport.

“This game will beat you down, so it’s the people that you surround yourself with, really, that will be the ones to pick you up,” said Schneider. “You have people to fall back on. You have people to vent to, people to laugh with, people to cry with.”

Locker-room friendships aren’t necessarily unique, especially within the long and winding MLB schedule. Most ballplayers spend more time with their teammates than with their own families during the season, a conducive foundation for strong bonds and lifelong relationships.

If a few of those teammates are really lucky, though, a clubhouse friendship can become a family affair.

“Last year I went to visit him in Bonao, where he lives, in Maimon,” said Guerrero of Hernández. “We got his family and mine together, and it’s just one family. You can’t even tell who belongs to my family and who belongs to his family.”

Guerrero has learned a lot from witnessing the family-man side of Hernández, who’s currently on paternity leave after the birth of his third child.

“He’s a good father and a good husband,” said the first baseman. “He’s always there for his family. And that’s something that, thanks to God, he’s taught me.”

There is a piece of the island in the Blue Jays’ clubhouse. Its door is always open.