And so, being the seeker of truth that I am, I decided to research on the Internet for interviews that Vlad had given in order to squelch the flames of my passion. I figured that I would read something that would tell me I was being silly, that Vlad has his eye on a penthouse overlooking the NY skyline or a palatial abode on a Malibu Beach plus a $20 gazillion contract to boot. What I found surprised me and fueled my fire.
What I found out was that Vlad gave precious few interviews. Much of the information in this part is from two major interviews he has given, one with ESPN and the other with Sporting News. Admittedly, one will find it best to take most interviews with athletes with a grain of salt. But with the extreme paucity of interviews from a player whose performance over the past 4-5 years baseball-reference.com has said was most like Willie Mays at the same age, makes his words worth its weight in gold, as he speaks only when he feels it is important to speak.
First off, he is not really interested in fame. That's partly why there's so few interviews (his lack of command of English is the other main reason but there's few interviews in Spanish on-line as well). His mother has taught him to be humble and he has taken her lessons to heart. And his mother is a key into interstanding Vlad.
For many Latin American stars, the first thing they do when they strike it rich is literally like the opening sequence of the Beverly Hillbillies: they pack up all their belongings and move to a palacial home (I guess their agents play Mr. Drysdale). Vlad's mom is disgusted by this ostentatious behavior and has stated so in an interview when reacting to a video of the home Sammy Sosa built for his mother. Vlad's mother still lives in the same house on the same plot of land where they onced lived in deep poverty and where the house was once virtually destroyed in a hurricane.
And this is a very tight family. Vlad and his siblings all have houses that are all in the same neighborhood as their mom. During the off season, Vlad would join his siblings at their mom's house, where they would spend all day and leave late at night. One reason he wants to live so close is to make up for lost time. His mother had to work away for 11 months of the year, so she used to sent pictures home along with her salary so that her kids can remember how she looked like. Now he can see her almost all the time.
Her influence was reflected in other ways. His first year in the majors, she insisted on staying with him and, like she did for older brother Wilton who is currently in the Reds minor league system, when he first made the majors, cooked for him and took care of him. Being a devout religious person, she wants her son to be humble and not flashy. She believes that the adulation he gets conflicts with the teachings of the bible.
Every interview I've read has him disdaining fame and fortune, just as his mother has taught. He has stated that he is not into fame as it brings too many problems. He has passed up millions in possible endorsements because he was avoiding notoriety. Most descriptions of him by people near him describe him as simple and wanting a small-market atmosphere where he can just blend in and not be THE player.
He has deep loyalties. That's partly why he still lives in his old neighborhood as he doesn't want to get away from his roots. He wants to be with the people he grew up with. He wants to remember the days when he had to sip from muddy puddles in the road when he needed a drink of water, so that he can stay humble. That's why he doesn't want to leave the Expos, as they are the team that gave him his chance and so he is loyal to them for that. But he's not negotiating with them until there is a new owner and time is running short on that.
So where would he go if not Montreal? Despite my intent to find places he wanted to go to, instead I found some clues as to where he WON'T be going. Mama Guererro has stated in an interview that she has already nixed the idea of him going to NY or LA if he should ever change teams, end of story. I doubt very few players listen to what their mothers publicly say, but Vlad is one of those few players I would believe would do it. She undoubtedly would not be happy with Southern teams with large Spanish population where a "Fernando Valenzuela"-like fervor would erupt, so there goes those teams. Again, that would be against what she believes. So even if NY and LA threw all the money in their budgets at him, all indications suggest that he would not go for it just for money.
If money is not a major motivator, then what is? His behavior gives vital clues. He has stayed close to his roots and friends, feeling a loyalty to them. He doesn't speak English well, so he would prefer a manager who can speak Spanish. He would prefer a team in a city that is not so overly focused on the sports team or their heroes, so that he can just do his job then go live his life simply and humbly.
This is where the Giants can come in, looking like a perfect place for Vlad. The Giant's have Felipe Alou and Luis Pujols, who is the Giant's firstbase coach. Vlad has not really said much about Alou but what he has said speaks volumes. The only quote I could find was one in Spanish the first time Vlad faced Felipe as an opposing player. He said that of all the exciting moments he has had as a professional player, the next three games playing against Felipe will be the most exciting for him. To paraphrase the translation of his quote, to him, to see Felipe's face at the ballpark will give him a sensation he will never forget, as it will be incredible to be on the field with him again, even if only in the opposing dugout. So he obviously feels strong loyalty to Felipe.
He also noted in that interview that he owed much of his progress in baseball to Luis Pujols so loyalty is there too. Obviously, Felipe speaks Spanish fluently so Vlad would be comfortable in that way. San Francisco is a great sports town but the general population is not gung ho over sports the way other parts East is. For example, Jeff Kent put up Hall of Fame numbers here but, despite his media friendliness, never got the media attention someone like him would have gotten playing in a mid-west or east team. In fact, the only time he really got notice was when reporters would ask him about Bonds. So Vlad could be relatively anonymous here and unbothered by most media.
So how does Jose Uribe fit into this story? The Giants got Uribe by trading Jack Clark to the Cardinals. Uribe, after he became starting shortstop for the Giants, became very wealthy, especially relatively to his neighbors in the Dominican Republic. To share his good fortune, Jose Uribe came by Vlad's town and, as Vlad recalled in the interview in ESPN, gave the town's kids nine gloves to use. Unfortunately, there were a lot of kids there so they had to share. He joked in that ESPN interview that "My town had too many kids and not enough Major Leaguers."
Vlad has decided to do the same but on a bigger scale, bringing clothes and equipment to the kids there and building a stadium there, showing the kind of guy he is and the big heart he has. And how better to show loyalty than to join the team that Jose Uribe used to work for, your San Francisco Giants!
Martin Lee writes 'A Biased Giant's Fan's View' for SFDugout.com when the mood and muse strikes him. He has been a Giants fanatic since 1971 when he got his first glove from his dad (a catchers mitt that his dad immediately had to return for an outfielders mitt). He will believe to his dying days that Bobby Bonds was robbed of being the first 40-40 player. He is GoGiants on the Giants discussion board. His e-mail is email@example.com if you would like to reach him.