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Guerrero Pulls Out of Classic

Times Staff Writer

When Vladimir Guerrero returned to practice Wednesday after a two-day absence and had difficulty even seeing the ball through a haze of grief and sorrow, he knew this was the right decision.

The Angel slugger, distraught over the deaths of three cousins in a Sunday car accident in the Dominican Republic, backed out of the World Baseball Classic, saying he wasn’t prepared to play for his native country.

“I feel mentally that I can’t compete at a level that will be respectable to the people watching,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “I don’t want to cheat anybody, and at this point, to be able to give it 100% would be impossible. I prefer to be around here to get ready for the season.”

Guerrero was scheduled to leave for the Dominican’s WBC training camp in Florida today, and he said he was physically prepared to play in the inaugural tournament after beginning his off-season workouts much earlier than usual.

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But after spending two days talking to family members and friends in the aftermath of the accident that killed his cousins and sent a fourth one to a hospital, and after receiving countless calls of condolences from players such as David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez, Guerrero decided to opt out of the WBC.

His loss, combined with Manny Ramirez’s decision not to play, removes two of baseball’s most feared sluggers from the Dominican lineup, and Guerrero knows his decision may not sit well with some of his countrymen.

“But unless something like this happens to you, you have no idea how it’s going to affect you and how you would feel about it,” Guerrero said. “I was ready to go to the Classic. But now, after this, it gives me a different perspective. It makes me feel more that my family is what counts more and I need to be around here.

“There are three dead and one kind of clinging to life right now, so I don’t feel that at this point I should be ignoring everything to go represent the Dominican. It’s not an easy decision ... but I think people will understand.”

Guerrero is still trying to get details of the one-car accident, which occurred on a road between Don Gregorio and San Cristobal.

Three of the four cousins lived in the New York area and would usually cook for Guerrero and take him to and from the park when he was in town to play the Yankees or Mets. Though funeral services were held Monday, Guerrero may still return to the Dominican some time in the next week to tend to family matters.

“That’s one of the reasons too, why I’m better off not going and interrupting the Classic and going [home],” Guerrero said. “I spoke to my mom, and she said, ‘I think it’s better that you didn’t come right away because we might need you to come in the next few days.’

“My mom said it was better I didn’t come and see all three of them dead together, because she said it was a pretty graphic and devastating picture, and something she didn’t want me to take back.”

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Angel shortstop prospect Erick Aybar, who is living with Guerrero during spring training, said the last few days have been extremely difficult for the outfielder.

“Three in his family die, one’s in the hospital ... oh my God,” Aybar said. “Sometimes he cries. ... Everybody’s really sad because their family is big leaders down there.”

The WBC decision “was causing a lot of confusion in his mind,” Aybar said, but Guerrero found some clarity in the days he was away from the Angels.

“It’s an easy decision to make, because right now, I can’t think of leaving here,” Guerrero said.

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Guerrero participated in workouts Wednesday, but his mind seemed elsewhere. Asked if this was as distraught as he has ever seen Guerrero, first base coach Alfredo Griffin said, “Yes. I can see deep inside how hurt he is.”

Said Guerrero: “It was very hard, because these were guys that ... were almost like brothers to me. And actually, [Wednesday] was a good outlet to come out here and go to work again, but it was hard mentally to concentrate even on seeing the ball because your mind is wandering as to how much they will be missed.”


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