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Guillen, Guerrero share unlikely bond

Guillen, Guerrero share unlikely bond

ANAHEIM -- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen and Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero could not be any more different.

Before the first two games of the American League Championship Series, Guillen held impromptu media sessions in English and Spanish, joked with anyone who stopped for more than two seconds and greeted everybody with hugs and handshakes like they were members of his family.

He was mayor of U.S. Cellularville and these were his people.

In the visiting dugout, Guerrero emerged quietly. He's not big on interviews -- in English or Spanish -- and he would only joke around with those who joked with him first. He had a serious look on his face and it was easily apparent the gentle giant was all business.

That is, until he saw Guillen, and then it became clear that these two are more alike than people realize.

"Ozzie gets him laughing," said Angels Spanish broadcaster Jose Mota, who is close friends with Guillen and Guerrero. "I think the connection is that Ozzie is a loose cannon and Vladi recognizes where Ozzie is coming from. He understands Ozzie. He understands the exuberance and happiness and just the way Ozzie is. Vlad is having as much fun as Ozzie is."

Get Guerrero around Guillen and it shows. The pair spent so much time kidding around before Game 2 of the ALCS that Angels shortstop Orlando Cabrera walked by and jokingly told Guillen, "Let him go already. We have a game to play."

The chatter continued for several minutes after Cabrera walked away.

"Vlad Guerrero was my friend before I had this title, and he's going to be my friend when I leave managing," Guillen said. "We're going to be friends for a long time."

Longtime friends, Guillen and Guerrero grew closer during the 2001 season, when Guillen coached third base for Montreal and Guerrero was in his sixth season with the Expos. The Guerrero and Guillen families eventually developed a strong bond over the years and keep in touch during the offseason.

"My mom and Vlad's mom are very close," said Ozzie Guillen Jr., the White Sox translator. "I think [Guerrero and Guillen] feed off each other. There is a mutual respect. Vlad's very quiet and he enjoys doing his job. I think he sees the same thing in my dad. My dad just talks a lot more."

Their roots are different -- Guillen is from Venezuela. Guerrero grew up in the Dominican Republic as one of nine children in a home with no running water or electricity. His father drove an airport van and his mother was a maid. He did not see his mother for five years during his childhood because she found better work in Venezuela.

When she returned to the Dominican Republic, he did not let her go. He still hasn't.

"What you see is what you get," Mota said. "That big smile is there from the ballpark to his house. His greatest joy comes from his mom being around, and I know that's what he loves. You ask him what he likes to do and he says being at home and enjoying that home cooking."

Guerrero made his professional debut in 1996 and later became one of five players to bat .300 with at least 30 home runs, 100 runs scored and 100 RBIs in five consecutive seasons from 1998-2002. This season, he hit .317 with 32 home runs and 108 RBIs in 141 games. He won the American League Most Valuable Player Award in 2004 after hitting .337 with 39 home runs and 126 RBIs during the regular season.

Guillen said that he's so familiar with Guerrero's tendencies that he knows when the All-Star is really locked in, and when pitchers don't have a chance against him. If Guerrero steps out of the batters box during an at-bat and tightens his belt? Watch out.

The only player who could hit balls in and out of the strike zone better than Guerrero? Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, Guillen says. "Maybe."

"I think Vlad is one of the best players in the league, and to me, I feel proud and pleased he's one of my best friends," Guillen said. "I saw him when he was great. He is still good. The way he plays the game? Wow."

The way Guerrero takes a joke during an at-bat is also worth noting. In Game 1 of the ALCS, Guillen tossed gum at his friend from the dugout and says he almost hit the home plate umpire.

"Who knows what Ozzie yells at him from the dugout," Mota said. "I don't think Vladi knows."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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