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Mike Harrington: Bisons fans abuzz thanks to Vladdy Jr.

Doesn't matter if it's the majors or Triple-A. The days roll on and on in baseball, one after the next. Days off are uber rare. From July 12-Aug. 5, for instance, the Bisons will have exactly one.

This day was different. No matter what the scoreboard said during the 11-8 loss to first-place Lehigh Valley, there was a buzz at Coca-Cola Field you had to love Tuesday.

It started hours before the first pitch under the hot afternoon sun and it didn't stop under the lights.

Thank you, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., for putting the focus squarely on the field. This is going to be a fun August downtown.

The announced crowd was 9,477 for Vladdy Jr.'s Triple-A debut. Tuesday is usually the weakest night on the schedule, with limited promotions. The Tuesday average this season, not counting the July 3 extravaganza, had been just 5,401.

That's a major Vladdy Bump.

There was a media mob full of Toronto reporters that greeted Guerrero. A few hundred fans took up the Bisons' offer of an early entry through the gates to watch batting practice (Guerrero took only a couple of rounds and did send one ball deep over the 371-foot sign in left-center).

The kid jumped to the rail to sign a few autographs and got a huge round of applause – when his name was simply announced in the starting lineup for batting third.

With Bisons starter pitcher Nick Tepesch laying a major egg and helping to put his team in an 8-0 hole through just two innings, Guerrero still kept everyone's attention.

Aside from July 3, it was easily the biggest Tuesday crowd of the season in both tickets sold and bodies in seats. And there was not the normal traffic to and fro. People were engaged watching the game. And they were into it.

Never more than in the bottom of the sixth. Anthony Alford walked and up came Guerrero with the bases loaded and the Bisons in a 10-5 hole.

Bisons drop 11-8 decision to Lehigh Valley

Plenty of fans in the reserved seats behind home plate were on their feet as Guerrero fell behind, 1-2, against IronPigs pitcher Mark Leiter Jr.

Then he scalded a ball to left. Former St. Louis outfielder Adron Chambers made a headlong dive and speared it, preventing a three-run double and turning it into a sacrifice fly. Great drama indeed.

Guerrero had walked in his first three at-bats, taking nine straight balls in one stretch from Lehigh Valley starter Ranger Suarez. The 22-year-old had a 0.57 ERA in his three Triple-A starts this year and was just five days removed from his big-league debut for Philadelphia, a win in Cincinnati.

So what in the world was he so scared of? Suarez walked Guerrero on a full-count breaking pitch in the first – very weak sauce there – and walked him on four straight pitches in the third with an eight-run lead.

He paid on Danny Jansen's three-run homer. Then he walked Guerrero again in the fifth, leading to Rowdy Tellez's two-run double.

"I went to home plate to swing and they were not throwing anything to swing (at)," Guerrero said after the game through Blue Jays interpretor Rafael Dubois. "I just stand there waiting for my pitch. If they don't throw my pitch, I'm not going to swing at it."

Guerrero will do his share of damage but will also help the lineup, getting better pitches sent down the order. For five at-bats that totaled just 0 for 1 with three walks and a sacrifice fly, Guerrero was certainly engaged.

"You kind of expect special things. He's used to being that guy," said manager Bobby Meacham. "He knows the game well enough to know until they throw that across that little white plate, he doesn't have to swing at it. He's ready to hit it and they know that also."

When he met reporters before the game, Guerrero was relaxed. He played that way too, making picks on two difficult balls hit to third base on consecutive plays in the second inning and going first-to-third with a headfirst slide in the first on a Jansen single.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. makes a diving play in the second inning. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

After batting over .400 in Double-A, how much of an adjustment is a new level going to be?

"It's the same baseball," he said. "The only thing I need to do is go out there and play the game."

Good first night overall. Good eye at the plate. Nice glove work – which is where there will be a huge point of emphasis during this stint here.

Meacham joked it reminded him of the circus around the Yankees promoting a 19-year-old Jose Rijo in 1984 as a way to counter the hoopla surrounding the rookie year across town of Dwight Gooden with the Mets. By 1990, Rijo was a World series hero in Cincinnati.

Guerrero, of course is the future of the Blue Jays. He said he spent Hall of Fame weekend in Cooperstown talking to his father and family members, and touring the museum. Especially notable to him were some Negro League statues.

And he was talking to Pedro Martinez, his godfather.

"We talk a lot of things," Guerrero said. "One of the main things is to keep working and go out there and do my job."

Pretty good Triple-A debut. Pretty interesting month ahead.

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