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Morales proud to return the father figure favour to Vlad Guerrero Jr.

DUNEDIN — Kendrys Morales will never forget when he first met the Guerrero family and the profound and lasting effect the encounter would have on his baseball life.

The year was 2004 and Morales had just defected from Cuba and landed in the Anaheim Angels clubhouse. Despite his reputation in his homeland, the big hitter was battling through culture shock, homesickness and the challenge of making it in the American big leagues.

Enter Vlad Guerrero, who was well on his way to a Hall Of Fame career at that point — not to mention the sire of a current superstar in waiting — and saw in Morales a player with potential but in need of some guidance.

Guerrero took the young Cuban under his wing, teaching him the lessons that would send him off on a successful career, now about to reach its 13th season in Major League Baseball.

Fast forward to today where the Blue Jays designated hitter is ready to return the favour to a friend and father figure he still reveres.

Morales has known Vlad Guerrero Jr., since he was a lad of six and has followed the 19-year-old’s every step in becoming baseball’s top-rated prospect and the a future star for the Jays.

Earlier in camp, Guerrero spoke about Morales being like a father to him. Their lockers are two apart in the Jays clubhouse here and the mentoring under way is most evident.

“I feel like those words, make me proud,” Morales said on Wednesday through a team-appointed translator, when asked about Vlad Jr.’s fatherly feelings toward him. “I have known all of the Guerrero family for years. I have seen Vladdy since he was a kid.

“I’m going to help Vladdy establish himself whenever he comes here to the big leagues.”

Just like his father did with him a decade and a half ago and a continent away in Southern California.

Though he is reluctant to speak English to reporters, Morales is a clear leader on this young, rebuilding team. The Latin players such as fellow Cuban Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Guerrero and others gravitate toward him but Morales’ interaction with all constituencies of the clubhouse is evident.

It’s strong enough that it didn’t take long for first-year manager Charlie Montoyo to recognize what he has in the proven veteran.

“I’m very lucky to have Morales here,” Montoyo said. “He helps me out. He’s in charge of that clubhouse. He’s one of the leaders and again I don’t take that for granted.

“He does a great job with everyone. You usually see him around the Latin players but he talks to everybody. He’s got the respect of every person here including the coaches.

“You don’t see him talking in English too much but he does talk to everybody in there.”

At age 35, Morales seems to embrace those responsibilities. His interactions with Justin Smoak, for example, are highly entertaining. But besides keeping players loose, the native of Fomento, Cuba is committed to keeping them responsible.

“I think discipline is the key here in the clubhouse and on the field,” Morales said. “If everybody follows that, I think it’s going to be great.”

His affinity with the family aside, Morales shares the almost universal view of Guerrero, one that has him rocketing to superstardom not long after the Jays promote him to the big club, whenever that may come.

“I think Vladdy is a rising star that all Dominican people should feel about him but not just the Dominican people,” Morales said, referring to his heritage. “It’s everywhere he goes to play because he’s going to be great.”

The reunion between the two current teammates was natural, given that Morales had played with Vlad Sr. for six years in Anaheim.

According to ESPN’s Marly Rivera, who has chronicled both Guerreros during their careers, Vlad Sr. instructed his son to tail Morales as he worked to find his way around the culture of the clubhouse.

“When I told my dad I got the spring training invite, he told me, ‘Son, you want to be the best? Do you want to continue being the best? Wherever Kendrys Morales goes, you follow,’” the elder Guerrero told Rivera. “I asked him why he would say that to me, and he replied, ‘When Kendrys Morales was a rookie, he did all the things that you need to do by following my example. Anywhere I went, he followed. So what you see in him, that’s the way I did things when I was playing.’”

Morales has a family of his own — two girls and a son, Kendrys Jr. — and now a baseball ‘son’ that clearly means the world to both of them.

“Kendrys is almost like my dad in the sense that he grew up next to him,” Guerrero Jr. said earlier in camp. “Now I’m proud to be next to him. I feel there is a strong relationship there.”

One that figures to only get stronger as soon as they are both major-leaguers.


In his two seasons as the Blue Jays’ designated hitter, Kendrys Morales has had uneven results at the plate.

But as he geared up for what he hopes will be a big 2019 campaign, Morales admits that he took more than one peek at the magical stretch of seven consecutive games with a home run he produced last August.

“I definitely took advantage of that in the off-season,” said Morales, whose seven-game streak was a Jays record and an MLB record for a switch- hitter. “I watched videos on that streak and I really enjoyed that. It’s over and I’m going to keep working hard to see if I can do that again.”

Morales looks to be in solid shape here and is gearing up for what he hopes will be a strong start.

“I believe that you’ve got to come to spring training in shape, not just get in shape here,” Morales said. “I worked very hard in the off-season because I really want to have a great start.”

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