Guerrero swings the bat as ferociously as he did as a teen. The only major advancement in his hitting technique is that this season he has begun to look for balls in certain zones around the plate. But no pitch is safe from the violently quick arc of his long arms and 34-inch, 32-ounce bat. At least twice in the minors he hit doubles on pitches that bounced in front of the plate. Last year he lashed at a pitch from the Brewers' Eric Plunk that was shin-high and two inches off the outside edge of the plate and drilled it through the leftfield gap for a triple.
"He's got so much plate coverage it's kind of scary," says Phillies righthander Andy Ashby, who sweated out an intentional walk to him last month. "I was scared to throw ball four because I was afraid he could reach it. What's really scary is, he's probably going to get better than he is now."
"You know how you pitch around hitters sometimes?" Cubs pitcher Kevin Tapani says. "He's impossible to pitch around. He can hit any pitch, and I would never, ever throw him the same pitch twice in a row."
On Opening Day this year Guerrero came muttering back to the dugout after grounding out against Dodgers ace Kevin Brown. "Next time, I get him," Guerrero said to catcher Lenny Webster.
"You mean home run, Vladdy?" Webster asked.
"Home run," Guerrero replied.
Next time up Guerrero smashed a homer to dead centerfield. Webster broke up laughing.
No one appears to be less excited about his success than Guerrero. He considers himself a religious man who believes in praising God as he crosses the plate after every home run and living a humble life without such extravagances as liquor, jewelry and, apparently, batting gloves. Brewers second baseman Ron Belliard joked with him during batting practice last Friday about going out for salsa dancing. Guerrero admonished him, telling him he should "focus on baseball."
Nearly all of Guerrero's waking moments are focused on baseball, including his computerized version. Last Thursday teammate Michael Barrett shooed away a photographer hunched near Guerrero and his PlayStation. "I wouldn't do that if I were you," Barrett warned. "That's his thing."
There may be no odder sight in baseball than watching Guerrero operate his virtual self with the same concentration he brings to the batter's box. "We are about the same," the real Guerrero says. The lines blur. He's playing games day and night. It's a baseball life of another time. Simple. Blessed. There's no rush to learn English, peddle soft drinks, eat in fancy restaurants and get the packaged treatment of Canada's other great young sports star, Vince Carter. Alas, inevitably, that will come all too soon.