There are very few baseball players who do not play for, and have never played for, the Red Sox that I would claim to be a fan of. It's not like I dislike anybody not affiliated with the Red Sox--most of the time, I just don't know them. Brian makes fun of me for this East Coast myopia all the time, and he's probably got a point.
However, I can honestly say at this juncture that I am a fan of Vladimir Guerrero. I am just in awe of him at the plate. This was true before tonight's Home Run Derby, but this was one of the few times I could watch him hit home runs without having them mean a run against the Red Sox.
Not only did he tie the round-one high of the Home Run Derby (tho it was only 5) but in each round the homers he hit were towering, lingering beauties, most of them to the back rows of the left-field bleachers. That 503-foot rocket he hit into the glove out in left-center field made me gasp right off the bat--just the ferocity of his swing was something extraordinary, before I even saw where it ended up.
It's pretty clear I'm not alone in my nonpartisan admiration--the whole crowd stood up for him at the end, right before he won the whole thing with his third home run in the final round, even though most of them probably aren't fans of his team.
Early in the exhibition, Vladi was the recipient of a special Papi blessing (and with the Papi stamp of approval, how can you argue the guy's not awesome?). After Guerrero had hit some majestic and terrifying base hits, but no home runs, on his first few swings, Papi came out bearing a beautiful polished-wood box which he opened up by way of a series of delicate little hinges and interlocking panels, to unveil an equally beautiful dun-colored bat, which he removed from its luxurious home and kissed before handing it to Vladi.
Vladimir launched his rainbows with that bat, while Papi grinned and cheered with genuine happiness from the sidelines.
I was reminded, watching this, of what I wrote last year about the Derby:
That sound off Ortiz's bat--that ringing, meaty THWACK--and the way the ball goes tailing off into orbit while he stands and watches, a great dark figure under the stadium lights...there's something so sublime about David Ortiz, his happiness, his booming power, his unfailing interior light. People talk (at least half-jokingly) about Albert Pujols being divine, but I think that if God chose to incarnate himself as ballplayer, it's a pretty safe bet he'd be this one.
He didn't swing a bat this year, but that's still how I feel. (Though I also made sure to suggest out loud to the screen that Papi should get that bat back from Vladi when he was done with it.)
Before Vladi was retired in the first round, a random very happy person ran up and hugged him and then wiped his face lovingly with a Dominican flag. I loved it. And Vladi just sort of smiled like, "Um, dude, we're on--uh, ok." Which made me love him a little more, too.
P.S. Matt Holliday can stay also.
P.P.S. A-Rod sighting: nodding solemnly as Barry Bonds pontificated to him, wearing a crisp suit even though absolutely everyone else was wearing jerseys. A-Rod's practically the only person on Earth who can stand next to Barry Bonds and still seem like the bigger jerk.
P.P.P.S. Peter Gammons reported that Josh Beckett and
Jake Peavy Brad Penny* were lobbying for a pitchers' home run competition next year. Which, I mean, first all, who let those two hang out together? Were they supervised?
*Thanks to alert reader mouse for the name correction. Now that I have seen Brad Penny's introduction at the All-Star Game it was definitely him Joshie was hanging out with, and my questions still apply. Jake Peavy looks more like he was probably hanging out with Cole Hamels.