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On the rise: Tatis, Guerrero among young stars lifting game

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National League's Fernando Tatis Jr., of the San Diego Padres, speaks with the media prior to batting practice for the MLB All-Star baseball game, Monday, July 12, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER – The gold-plated necklace Fernando Tatis Jr. wore for the All-Star festivities was both flashy and eye-catching — just like his game.

The San Diego slugger nicknamed “El Niño" — he wore it proudly on the chain — is certainly a home-run hitting, bat-flipping show of force. Even more, he exudes cool as he becomes the ambassador of fun for the game of baseball.

Talented young stars such as Tatis, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., along with his Toronto teammate Bo Bichette, Juan Soto of Washington, Ozzie Albies of Atlanta and of course pitching/hitting phenom Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels are taking the game by storm. They'll be on full display Tuesday night at the All-Star Game — and can't-miss entertainment.

Ever the showman, Tatis even hinted that, should he go deep, he not only will turn in a memorable bat-flip but grandly shimmy his way down the baseline as well.

Nothing personal to whichever pitcher may surrender that particular long ball, either. Infusing a little fun is just one of his growing roles, along with being the face of it. Those are roles he takes seriously — in a joyful way, that is.

“I do embrace it,” Tatis said Monday before the Home Run Derby. “It's a lot of responsibility that comes with it. But I’m just the same kid trying to have some fun. This game is really, really hard.”

He makes it look oh-so-easy, too. All these generation-next players do. The top three home-run leaders at the All-Star break are all 27 or younger, led by Ohtani with 33. Tatis and Guerrero each have 28 homers.

It's only appropriate for Tatis and Guerrero. The two 22-year-olds are both the sons of major leaguers.

“Together since kids, both sons from big-league parents and now being here, it’s an amazing story," Tatis said. “It's crazy how this world works.”

One of the rising stars in the game who won't be on hand is Ronald Acuña Jr. The 23-year-old Braves outfielder tore the ACL in his right knee over the weekend when he landed awkwardly after jumping on the warning track trying to make a tough catch.

“He plays the game hard and he got hurt,” the 24-year-old Albies said. “I felt sad for our team. He’ a superstar for our team.”

This current crop of 20-somethings are so good and so marketable.

“How can you not grow the game around these young stars?” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, 29, said. "I can’t imagine being in the league at 20 years old, 21, 22. That’s so tremendous. It’s such an accomplishment to do what they do up here. I think of Tatis, Vlady Jr., what Bo Bichette’s doing, it’s something special.

“Growing the game around those guys that are going to be in this league for 10, 15 years is the right way to go. You’re going to have a fan base grow around those guys.”

The fact Guerrero's leading the league in average (.332) and RBIs (73) is not that big of a shock to Bichette. He's had a front-row seat for the theatrics of Guerrero for a while now.

“People ask me if I'm surprised, because his season is ridiculous. But after watching him in the minor leagues, this is something you expected,” Bichette said. “He's just that talented. He’s that amazing. Doesn’t matter who's on the mound.”

Earlier in the season when Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman saw his average hovering around .220, it was his 4-year-old son who implored him to find his groove.

After all, Charlie Freeman wanted his dad to make the All-Star team so he could meet Tatis. That introduction tops the list of Freeman's priorities this week.

“All I care about is making Charlie happy and Fernando is a big part of that,” Freeman said. “Fernando has no choice but to make Charlie happy.”

Freeman's son also counts Acuña, Albies and Bryce Harper, the elder statesman at 28, among his favorite players.

“Then he goes, ‘Oh, yes. You too, dad,’” said the 31-year-old Freeman, who made his fifth All-Star team. “There are so many guys that are young that make you stop and watch their at-bats or watch them pitch.”

Precisely their mission.

“We want to have fun,” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “Everybody here wants to have fun. We try to do that and that’s what we’re doing. We're going to continue to have fun.”

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AP Freelancers Dennis Georgatos and Michael Kelly contributed to this report.

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