NECBL: Valley Blue Sox star AJ Guerrero enjoying a second straight summer with the club
|Published: 07-03-2023 7:14 PM
HOLYOKE – When it comes to summer ball, high school and college players have a lot of options to choose from – there are four dozen different summer ball leagues listed on the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper website.
As a result, it’s not often that players return to the same team, or even the same league, year over year. Consistency is hard to come by for most summer teams.
Luckily for the Valley Blue Sox, they managed to snag one of their most dependable players from last season back for another go-around.
Outfielder Antonio ‘AJ’ Guerrero is back with the Blue Sox for the summer, and this year he’ll be in Valley blue all season long.
“We all wanted him back on board this season. He was looking to going to the Cape (Cod Baseball League)… but we know he liked his time here last year, and we loved having him here,” Blue Sox GM Tyler Descheneaux said.
Blue Sox head coach Pedro Santiago and Guerrero texted occasionally over the course of Guerrero’s collegiate season at the University of Washington. Guerrero asked if Santiago would be coming back to the Valley. Yeah, he would be back, Santiago said, and the team might need an outfielder.
“I was like ‘Ah, I’ll see what I can do,’” Guerrero said.
Guerrero joined the Blue Sox mid-season in 2022 and made an immediate impact, going 3-for-5 in his first game. He made quite an opening statement with a grand slam in the top of the fourth inning of his debut.
He led the team with a blistering .378 batting average in 23 games over the course of the 2022 season, and this year, he’s fifth on the team with a .255 average, smacking 15 hits in 14 games, including a home run and a pair of doubles so far. Even though he joined the team late in 2022, his performance was impressive enough to earn him an invite to the NECBL All-Star game, and he was named to the All-NECBL Second Team at the end of the season.
“I liked Pedro and all of the guys and coaches last year, so I thought the logical thing would just be to come back,” Guerrero said. “I just like (the coaching staff’s) vibe and their atmosphere and the relationship that they bring with all the players.”
Guerrero, along with fellow returners Terry Murray and Kohtaro Shimada, provide some stability for incoming players who are getting used to playing for a new team and league. Fans and staff are excited to see what new skills Guerrero can bring to the Blue Sox again this year, but Santiago pointed to Guerrero’s leadership skills as something he’s brought back with him from Seattle.
“He’s a leader. He came back and we knew he was gonna hit the ball no matter what, we knew he was gonna defend, we knew he was gonna catch the ball – we knew what we were going to get with that,” Santiago said. “But the fact that he came back as a leader now, everybody leans on him, that’s huge. That’s great to see him be a leader.”
It’s good for the staff, too. Descheneaux is another person returning this season at the management level, and it’s been enjoyable for him to see guys like Guerrero and Murray around the ballpark, getting to know them even better. It’s rewarding for him, in just his second year as the general manager, to know the team is bringing back top talent.
“Having the guys come back, it's good on so many different levels. Even just for myself knowing that like, hey, we did a good enough job last year where people want to come back,” Descheneaux said. “It's good to know OK, we're doing something right. Two of our better players (said) I want to spend my summer here again. So it makes us feel good.”
Descheneaux mentioned he’s had fans come up to him excited to see that Guerrero is back, and his presence was part of the reason they came to a game. So far, he’s lived up to the hype, and Guerrero is dialed in on improving different parts of his game patrolling the outfield at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke.
“With my swing, I'm trying to just be on target, stay behind the ball and trying to pull the ball for more backspin, because that’s where most of my damage is done. I've worked with my hitting coach at school, trying to find some tweaks and things I can figure out to catch the ball out front more,” Guerrero said. “I’m working on it right now, I’m struggling a little bit, but I’m just trying to find my timing. Once I get that, I think I’ll be good.”
Guerrero will continue to work on his game through the rest of the summer, hoping to propel the Blue Sox to a long postseason run. The Blue Sox (9-12) will travel to face the Upper Valley Nighthawks on Wednesday at 6 p.m.Hannah Bevis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.