Vlad Jr.'s frenzied debut marks new era for Blue Jays
Tom Szczerbowski / Getty Images Sport / Getty

A slightly larger-than-usual media phalanx parked itself inside the Toronto Blue Jays’ clubhouse on Wednesday ahead of the team's matinee at Rogers Centre. The horde - hungry for confirmation, or a wink, or even a knowing nod from Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo - startled Joe Biagini.

"Is Vlad Guerrero Jr. here or something?" the goofball reliever quipped.

"No," responded catcher Luke Maile, seated at his locker nearby. "He's on the plane."

Actually, Guerrero Jr., the endlessly ballyhooed uber-prospect of Hall of Fame lineage, was in Syracuse, putting the finishing touches on another tour de force performance for the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons: a 2-for-5 showing that included a double and an opposite-field home run. The effort inflated his slash line through eight games to .367/.424/.700.

Then he got on the plane.

And so began a new era for the Blue Jays, who immediately transformed from moribund to relevant with Guerrero Jr.'s official arrival, cynically deferred as it was, on Friday. Calling up the best prospect in the game - perhaps in the history of the game - will do that, especially one as uniquely fascinating as Guerrero Jr.

To say that the long-awaited call-up rejuvenated a fan base that has grown increasingly disenchanted and disengaged over the last two seasons would be a gross understatement. Rather, Guerrero Jr.'s debut sparked a legitimate frenzy, the likes of which have never been seen - not by Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins, at least.

"I was fortunate enough to be at Stephen Strasburg's debut," Atkins told a veritable sea of reporters ahead of Friday's game against the Oakland Athletics. "It was somewhat similar. But this is like nothing I've ever seen."

The Vladito Show, it turns out, is far crazier than anything Biagini could've anticipated.

And then Guerrero Jr. sparked the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth after leading off the frame with a double, his first major-league hit, to help the Blue Jays to a 4-2 victory.

Jon Blacker / Major League Baseball / Getty

The gates at Rogers Centre typically open 90 minutes before first pitch for a standard 7:07 p.m. weeknight game. On this particular Friday, the stadium opened at 4:30 p.m., offering scores of fans an early first glimpse at Guerrero Jr., who delighted those early-arrivers with a panoply of ridiculous homers during batting practice, including one that smacked off the facade of the fourth deck in left-center field. Each blast elicited cheers. So did each bunt he laid down to kick off his BP session. (As he took his hacks, his proud entourage, led by his decorated father and ever-dutiful grandmother, looked on proudly from the Blue Jays dugout.)

Shortly before first pitch, when Guerrero Jr. was introduced over the PA system as the starting third baseman, batting fifth, the crowd - the Blue Jays' biggest since Opening Day - erupted. All 28,688 howled again when he cleanly fielded a Chad Pinder ground ball in foul territory in the top of the second. When he strode to the plate for the first time moments later, the crowd stood for the entirety of his at-bat. They stood for all four of his at-bats, in fact, and nearly lost their collective minds in the fourth when his drive to deep left field was hauled in at the wall. (He grounded out, hard but harmlessly, in his first plate appearance, then flew out - loudly, again - to right in his third trip.) That opportunity came in earnest, though, when he poked a 2-2 offering from Yusmeiro Petit down the first-base line for a double to lead off the ninth with the game knotted up at 2-2, eliciting an explosion that arguably trumped the one Brandon Drury's walk-off blast did moments later.

And the subtext of it all - from the sustained buzz to the consistently outsized reactions from the crowd, which even included some intrepid "M-V-P" chants - coupled with the storybook ending, reaffirmed what was plainly obvious to everyone who closely followed Guerrero Jr.'s ascent up the minor-league ladder: this kid is just special.

Newly minted 20-year-olds don't normally embarrass their competition at each level of the minors. Players that young don't earn 80-grade scores for both their hitting ability and power, either. They don't hit baseballs clean out of stadiums. They definitely don't walk more frequently than they strike out, not in baseball's current climate.

Moreover, they also don't hit fifth in their major-league debuts and then deliver in their highest-leverage at-bat.

But Guerrero Jr. did. He did it all while shouldering the pressure of his father's name, too.

And for the Blue Jays, who haven't made the postseason since 2016 (and haven't produced a homegrown superstar in eons), his arrival marks the beginning of the end of their rebuild. The warm reception he received Friday evening was catharsis as much as adoration.

Guerrero Jr., after all, isn't a harbinger of a bright future so much as he is the bright future. Now he just needs the reps.

"I think we have to be patient, but I honestly think he's going to do well," Montoyo said earlier this week. "Whatever happens, we have to be patient."

Jon Blacker / Major League Baseball / Getty

Eventually, he'll need some help, too, of course.

No one player, no matter how singularly talented, can reverse a rebuilding club's fortunes. Baseball doesn't work like that. It is democratic by design, and distinct from other major sports in that sense. Just because Guerrero Jr. makes the Blue Jays relevant and interesting - and maybe even fun? - doesn't mean he makes them good.

To that end, reinforcements are coming. Soon enough, Bo Bichette, another highly touted legacy prospect, will join Guerrero Jr. in Toronto. So will Cavan Biggio, whose father also has a plaque in Cooperstown. By next year, Nate Pearson, the organization's top pitching prospect, could also be plying his trade at the big-league level.

In the interim, though, there's the Vladito Show. No longer must Blue Jays fans subsist on grainy MiLB.com highlights, nor endure frustrating conversations about service-time manipulation. Instead, they can now enjoy on a nightly basis the jaw-dropping talent of the greatest prospect they've ever had and ruminate about a future that no longer seems that distant or nebulous.

"We're just as excited as you guys," Drury quipped after the game. " ... We're all super excited to have Vladdy in this lineup."

As they should be.

The future is here. And he's spectacular.

Jonah Birenbaum is theScore's senior MLB writer. He steams a good ham. You can find him on Twitter @birenball.

Vlad Jr.'s frenzied debut marks new era for Blue Jays
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