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SEATTLE — For Alejandro Kirk, a first trip to the all-star game will be full of ‘oh wow moments,’ as he gets the chance to hang with the best players in the game so early in his career.
For Vlad Guerrero Jr., a second trip to the Midsummer Classic (and third if you count his Home Run Derby virtuoso before it), the honour will be anything but something to take for granted.
It was two for the show for the Blue Jays on Friday when starters for the 2022 all-star game were announced — and the two Toronto players on their way are both thrilled with the honour and what it represents.
Kirk, the sweet-swinging catcher, and Guerrero, the Jays first baseman and one of the most popular players in the game, will both be Hollywood-bound for the game, which is scheduled to take place July 19 at Dodger Stadium.
“To make an all-star game, sometimes people think it’s easy,” said Guerrero, who was the show-stopper last year in Denver when he was named MVP after belting a monster home run at Coors Field to help the American League to victory. “It’s a lot of hard work. That’s why it means so much to me.
“All the hard work I put in during the off-season and in spring training … I’m very happy to be in my second one.”
Guerrero may not be lighting up the league like he did in 2021, when he was mentioned as an American League MVP candidate all season long. But his star still burns brightly — and more importantly, resonates with voters around baseball.
But from a Jays perspective, manager Charlie Montoyo believes the professionalism Guerrero has shown in establishing himself as a reliable first baseman is paramount.
“He’s an all star and he deserves to go,” Montoyo said. “And he doesn’t take it for granted, either.
“He’s honoured he’s going and he’s going to keep working hard. He’s a better first baseman than he was last year. He’s getting better every year.”
In early fan voting for the game, the Jays had several players in contention — including shortstop Bo Bichette, second baseman Santiago Espinal, and outfielder George Springer. Those three slipped in the head-to-head phase (and no doubt weren’t helped by the Rogers outage in Canada on Friday, the final day for casting online ballots.)
Of course, there’s a still a strong possibility that starting pitcher Alek Manoah and closer Jordan Romano will be added when pitchers for the Midsummer Classic are announced on Sunday.
And how cool would it be for Kirk to catch his big right-hander at the historic ball park?
Kirk, the 23-year-old native of Tijuana, Mexico, is the first Jays catcher to win a fan election. He entered play Friday hitting .312 with 10 homers in his first full season in the big leagues.
“I’m super happy and very proud of myself for all of the work I’ve been putting in for myself for all of these years,” Kirk said through translator Hector Lebron. “It’s paying off.
“This is very emotional as well, for my entire family. We are very close and we can’t believe it yet. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
A strong Kirk contingent will make the two-plus hour drive from Tijuana to L.A. to cheer on their son. While the entire clan is proud of Kirk, there’s no doubt who will be leading the way, and that would be patriarch, Juan Manuel.
“Definitely my dad,” Kirk said when asked who will relish the all-star experience the most. “It’s going to be one of the best days of his life. He watches every game. He follows me everywhere.”
Montoyo took great pleasure informing both of his players of their all-star nods, but clearly cherished Kirk’s reaction.
“It was pretty cool (for both) even though they both had an idea, more or less,” Montoyo said. “Kirky’s smile when I told him was pretty cool. I told him how proud I was over three years to see how he’s grown. And how he’s going to be a starter in the all-star game.
“The smile was huge. It was a good moment for me and for him.”
And more good moments to come for the players, of course, as they convene with the greats off the game, young and old.
“I think it’s in the clubhouse,” Guerrero said when asked what stands out with him about the all-star experience. “Sharing those moments with great players of all time and sitting down to talk about different things and share stories is great.”
AROUND THE BASES
The Jays hope they have added some relief for their reliever corps on Friday with Yimi Garcia (back strain) reinstated from the 15-day injured list. To make room on the roster, righty Casey Lawrence was optioned to triple-A Buffalo … While Saturday’s matchup between Alek Manoah and Seattle’s Robbie Ray is a tantalizing one, the Jays still don’t know who will get the start in Sunday’s series finale. Kevin Gausman pitched a bullpen session on Friday that didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Officially, he remains a possibility to return from his bruised ankle. Unofficially, Tuesday would seem a better option.