HARTFORD, Conn. — Craig Breslow is 37 years old, with a dozen years of experience as a left-handed reliever in the major leagues. He is pitching now for the Double-A New Hampshire Fisher Cats, just getting to know his teammates. In their opening series here, at Dunkin' Donuts Park against the Hartford Yard Goats, third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. amazed him.
"Last night Vlad made a throw across the diamond, and I was like, 'I didn't realize he had that arm!'" Breslow said. "And then I thought: 'I kind of should have. Why wouldn't he?' His dad could do it all."
Reminders of familiar greatness run deep in the infield of the Fisher Cats, an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. On a recent Saturday night, Cavan Biggio led off and played second base, with shortstop Bo Bichette — a former Lakewood High standout — hitting second and Guerrero, the third baseman, batting third. All three doubled by the fifth inning, just as their fathers did 1,546 times across a combined 50 seasons in the majors.
Craig Biggio, Dante Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. made 20 All-Star teams and belted more than 1,000 home runs among their 7,500 or so hits. Biggio made the Hall of Fame in 2015, and Guerrero will be inducted in July. Sons of major-leaguers often play pro ball, but three on one team, with fathers who were so prominent, is a special treat in the Eastern League.
The trio, who spent part of last season at Class A Dunedin, might not be there long. Baseball America ranks Guerrero as the No. 3 prospect in the game, with Bichette at No. 8. Through the Fisher Cats' first 12 games, Guerrero was hitting .362 and Bichette .306. Though Biggio has slumped a bit after a hot start, the Blue Jays value his versatility and plate discipline, and they gave him an award last season for leadership.
"I can think of no higher compliment to a former big-leaguer than for their son to come through the ranks and not have a hint of entitlement," said Ross Atkins, the Blue Jays' general manager. "They feel they belong in that environment and they're comfortable in it, but zero is being taken for granted. They all understand and respect how much sacrifice and commitment it takes to be great."
Guerrero gave a tantalizing glimpse of his future — and his father's past — at the end of spring training with a game-winning home run at Olympic Stadium in Montreal, where he was born and where his father rose to greatness. Guerrero, 19, was just 4 years old when Vladimir Sr. played his last game for the Expos. But the memories flooded back.
"When I got there, I remembered the locker where my dad was," Guerrero said through a coach and interpreter, Andy Fermin. "When I passed by the complex where we lived, I got some flashbacks from that, too. The home run was a significant moment, not only for me, but for the fans and everybody on the team and Montreal."
The Blue Jays, who have been Canada's only team since the Expos moved to Washington in 2005, signed Guerrero from the Dominican Republic for $3.9 million in July 2015. The next June, they drafted Bichette in the second round from Lakewood and Biggio in the fifth round from Notre Dame.
Each player has a striking difference or two from his father. Dante Bichette was a muscular outfielder; Bo is a wiry shortstop. Craig Biggio hit right-handed and came up as a catcher; Cavan hits left-handed and has played five positions as a pro, but never catcher. Guerrero is 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, shorter and stockier than his father at the same age. He played the outfield when he signed, like his father, but switched to third base for the Blue Jays.
"I think all of us look up to our dads a lot and try to emulate them; they're all really good players," Bichette said. "We'll probably never outlast the fact that 'he's Craig's son, he's Dante's son, he's Senior's son.' But at the same time, we're trying to make our own way, play hard and make a name for ourselves."
Bichette was 3 when his father retired as a player, but he was 15 in 2013, when Dante spent a year as the hitting coach for his primary team, the Colorado Rockies. Bo sometimes took batting practice with the players, but he taught himself his swing; Dante had wanted him to play tennis.
"In tennis, you kind of create your own path," Bo Bichette said. "You win, you advance. There's no coach or front office that can tell you, 'You're playing well, but we're going to continue to develop you.'"
Maintaining his swing is critical to Bichette, who essentially tries to obliterate the ball before using a more conservative approach with two strikes. A right-handed hitter, he lifts his left knee, rocks his hands back with his left shoulder, and lets loose. Dante Bichette — who named Bo after Bo Jackson, whom he called "the coolest athlete ever" — raised his son to do what comes naturally.
"I let him swing the bat as hard as he could," said Dante, who led the National League in homers in 1995. "I've learned, through raising my older son, through playing, through coaching so many high-level kids, that we just put way too much into the swing. The swing is a natural thing; let it happen. There's no 'baseball swing,' there's an athletic move. So I let Bo just crush the ball and be free."
Bo's older brother, Dante Bichette Jr., was the New York Yankees' first choice in the 2011 draft. He hit .249 over seven seasons, peaking in Double
A. Now 25, he signed this month with the independent St. Paul Saints planning to convert to catcher and relearn his natural swing. Dante Sr. said that the Blue Jays, who have encouraged the unorthodox mechanics of sluggers like Jose Bautista and Josh Donaldson, were a perfect fit for Bo.
"Nobody's messed with Bo," Dante Bichette said. "You can work on his defense, but hitting is his."
Like Bichette, Biggio has perhaps learned as much from his older brother, Conor, as he has from his father. Cavan — the name comes from a county in Ireland — won two Texas state high school championships as Conor's teammate, with Craig coaching. He followed Conor to Notre Dame, hit left-handed because of him and absorbed the game's lessons with him as a regular in the Houston Astros' clubhouse. Craig Biggio retired in 2007, when Cavan was 12.
"As a young kid, he'd come in, his ears would be open, his eyes would be open and he'd listen to conversations," Craig Biggio said. "He wouldn't say much, but he would watch how Jeff Bagwell went about his business, how Brad Ausmus went about his business, how his dad went about it. He just loves the game. He's a baseball junkie."
Bagwell was actually Cavan's favorite player — "Baggie doesn't take your car away," Craig Biggio said, laughing — and he inherited Bagwell's strike-zone judgment from watching countless Astros games with Bagwell and Biggio working counts and pestering pitchers.
"The knowledge of the zone that I have, I think it's from watching and listening to people talk, and being around the clubhouse," Cavan Biggio said. "My dad is very simplistic when it comes to hitting, which is great because you don't want to make it complicated. He's like: You want to look for your pitch, and with two strikes, you want to battle."
Craig Biggio tries to visit Cavan in the minors once or twice a month, and Dante Bichette also visits Bo often. Mariana Bichette — Dante's wife and Bo's mother — spends at least the first month of the season with Bo, at his request. ("I don't know how long that'll last," Dante said, "but he's just a couple of weeks removed from a teenager. He's smart about that.")
Vladimir Guerrero Sr. lives in the Dominican Republic, but he watched his son last summer at the Midwest League All-Star Game in Midland, Michigan, and the Futures Game in Miami. Lately, his Twitter feed (@VladGuerrero27) has mostly been highlights of Vladimir Jr., and words of encouragement. "Have fun kiddo," he wrote last weekend.
Asked what lesson most resonates from his father, Vladimir Jr. said, through Fermin: "To stay humble and treat my teammates like family."
Family is the dominant word around the Fisher Cats these days. Infielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr., the son of a former Cuban star and the brother of Yuli Gurriel, the Astros' first baseman, earned a promotion to Toronto on Friday. Even Fermin, the coach and translator, is the son of a 10-year major-leaguer, former shortstop Felix Fermin.
But as Guerrero, Bichette and Biggio advance, they will learn the same lesson as everyone else who has stood in the batter's box: Performance, not pedigree, matters most. Minor-league rosters are filled with famous names who never reach the major leagues.
"The name can only get you so far," Cavan Biggio said. "We might have had the blessing of a scout noticing our name when they see us play, but for us to get to the big leagues and stay there, it's something we have to do and we have to learn on our own."