Derby DNA: Vlad Jr. and Vlad Sr. 1st father-son duo to win trophy

July 11th, 2023

SEATTLE -- has a menacing swing, a powerful core and Home Run Derby deftness in his blood. In 2019, in Cleveland, he had delivered one of the most epic performances in the event’s history, only to finish second to Pete Alonso.

So Guerrero’s second showing at the T-Mobile Home Run Derby on Monday night at T-Mobile Park came with an air of anticipation. Could Vlad Jr. take the next, natural step on this stage? Could he do as his Hall of Fame father had done in 2007 and take the crown?

The answer: An unequivocal, electric yes.

After dispatching hometown hero Julio Rodríguez in the semifinals, Vlad took down Randy Arozarena, 25-23, in the finals to make the Guerreros the first father-son combo to win the Derby.

“To be honest, I don’t remember much about 2007,” Guerrero Jr., who was 8 when his dad won, said through an interpreter. “But I feel great, very happy, very proud that my father and I both won the Derby.”

What advice did Guerrero get from his dad?

“Zero advice,” he said with a smile. “‘Hit homers.’”

Advice taken.

Even though he finished second in 2019, Guerrero had turned in a memorable performance. He hit what was then a record-breaking 29 first-round homers. Then, Vlad and Joc Pederson became entangled in a sizzling semifinals duel that required not one, not two, but three swing-offs, with Guerrero ultimately prevailing by a 40-39 count.

Derby historians (should such a thing exist) have reason to wonder what the logs would look like had Guerrero not expended so much energy to dispose of Pederson. Even while gassed, he went on to push Alonso to the limit in the finals, falling 23-22. Alonso captured his first of two straight Derby crowns, and the rest is history.

Four years later, Guerrero came back for vindication. This hasn’t been a peak Guerrero season (incredibly, he’s hit only three home runs at Rogers Centre), but you wouldn’t know it on Monday night. And perhaps this performance can unlock something in one of the most talented young players in the sport.

“Vladdy, the power that he has,” said Arozarena, “was incredible.”

Guerrero’s opening round, with his manager, John Schneider, throwing to him like he did in 2019, began awkwardly. It took Vlad a handful of swings -- and 25 seconds of his allotted three minutes -- to go deep. Uncharacteristically lofting the ball instead of smacking rocket line drives, he struggled to find his rhythm.

But when it came, it came. Guerrero finished his three minutes with 17 homers, then he hit an additional nine in his one-minute bonus period, capping it with a 419-foot blast. Poor Mookie Betts, undersized for this event, didn’t stand a chance, notching just 11 homers to allow Guerrero to advance.

In the semifinals, it was Rodríguez -- like Guerrero in 2019 -- who had to deal with the tiring effects of a record-breaking round. J-Rod had hit 41 homers in his opening turn to break Guerrero’s '19 single-round record. Rodríguez nevertheless managed to muscle out 20 more before Guerrero took his turn.

J-Rod was the fan favorite, which made Guerrero, well, the opposite. The Mariners fans in attendance (and of course, there were many) cheered each time he grounded the ball. But Guerrero didn’t do that often. He tied Rodríguez’s 20 at the buzzer of his three minutes, then he needed just three swings in bonus time to hit No. 21 and reach the final again.

The format was not in Guerrero’s favor, because it required him to bat first in the final, immediately after walking off Rodríguez in the semifinals.

“It’s not easy,” Guerrero said. “Some people think it’s easy, but swinging hard for three minutes is going to take a lot from you.”

It didn’t matter. Guerrero hit 14 home runs in the final 1:13 of regulation -- a homer every 5.2 seconds. He finished the shorter two-minute regulation period with 20 homers, then he hit another five in his minute of bonus time.

Arozarena had his work cut out for him, and he put up an admirable effort that included 15 homers in his final 90 seconds. But when Arozarena came up just short, Guerrero stormed onto the field and playfully did the “Randy pose” in front of the runner-up.

Guerrero hit 91 homers in 2019 and lost. On this night, he was more efficient, claiming the crown with 72 dingers. Having won the Ted Williams All-Star Game MVP honor in '21, Guerrero has another trophy for his case. He’s got a long way to go, of course, before reaching Cooperstown like his dad, but his career is off to a pretty dynamic start.

Asked which Guerrero, in his prime, would win the Derby in a faceoff, Vlad Jr. thought hard for a second.

“It’s kind of difficult right now,” he said. “If it’s for time, with the [clock], I’ll win. If it’s by outs, he’ll win.”

In this timed event, no one could overcome the DNA and dominance Guerrero brought to the field. Now, the prophecy has been fulfilled. Father and son are bonded by blood and battered baseballs.