GARY | As with most players in independent baseball, Cristian Guerrero has had many travels.
Fortunately, after a three-country swing in the past 12 months, he knew the way back to Gary.
After four seasons and a franchise record 58 home runs Guerrero left the RailCats as a free agent following the 2011 season. But this past February the RailCats’ all-time leader in home runs, slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging re-signed with the team.
He couldn’t be happier.
“I feel great to get back to Gary and play for the RailCats and play for (RailCats manager) Greg Tagert; it feels great,” Guerrero said prior to Monday’s game against the Wichita Wingnuts at U.S. Steel Yard. “The fans are good to me.”
This is Guerrero’s 15th season as a pro. He was 17 when the Milwaukee Brewers signed him to a minor-league deal out of an academy in his native Dominican Republic, but at 32 years old and stops at rookie ball, A ball, A-plus ball, AA and AAA, the cousin of former MLB all-star Vladimir Guerrero is not ready to stop any time soon.
“Right now, you never know,” Guerrero said. “Right now I feel great, and this is my job. Right now I feel like I can play a couple more years. You never know what’s going to happen, but if I feel good I’ll keep playing.”
Playing for the RailCats became his job again after he signed with Winnipeg to start 2012, was traded to Sioux Falls and then played winter ball for Leones de Leon (The Lions of Leon) in the Nicaragua Professional Baseball League for a month and a half before hurting his knee and returning to America.
Once Tagert learned that Sioux Falls was planning to release Guerrero, he called the 6-foot-5, 210-pound outfielder.
“The decision to bring back Cristian was easy in my mind because of how much I care about him as an individual,” Tagert said. “I think we both agreed we wanted him here.”
There was no ill will from the amicable departure in 2011. As the season ended in 2011, Guerrero was a free agent and wanted to try to play on the east coast, as he and his wife and two daughters have resided in Newark, Del., since 2009.
Since his return, Guerrero has driven in runs in three of the team’s first four games, and he doubled to drive in the RailCats’ first run of Monday’s game.
He reported to camp in great shape and agreed to play the outfield with less frequency and focus on being the designated hitter and hitting No. 3 in the lineup, though he practiced playing some first base in spring training.
Guerrero’s calling card is obvious. On a team that traditionally does not contend for league home run titles, Guerrero’s presence breeds optimism for fireworks.
“I’m no different from the players or the fans — when he comes to plate, everybody’s thinking the same thing: Is he going to hit one into the net?” Tagert said. “And that’s what you’re hopeful for.”