New Hampshire Fisher Cats manager John Schneider played a starring role in one of the more heartwarming baseball promotions of 2018 when he swung at a ceremonial first pitch from his wife before a recent game and a puff of blue smoke revealed that a second Schneider son is on the way. Husband and wife shared hugs and tears of joy, the crowd cheered, and the moment generated 804 likes on Twitter.
Then John Schneider returned to the regularly scheduled portion of the program -- which entails overseeing the development of other people's sons.
Three players on his New Hampshire roster this summer have surnames that ring a bell. Third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the son of the newly minted Hall of Fame outfielder, is widely regarded as baseball's top prospect now that the Atlanta Braves have summoned Ronald Acuna Jr. from the minors. Shortstop Bo Bichette, Dante's boy, is a baseball rat who is tearing it up after a slow start. And second baseman Cavan Biggio, son of Craig, is moving up the prospect charts as a left-handed power bat.
In a perfect developmental scenario, the three MLB offspring might ascend the system together and enjoy a lengthy big league run anchoring Toronto's infield. For now, they're content to earn their promotions by laying waste to Eastern League pitching.
Ask Schneider whether he expects to look back on events of this summer with a sense of wonder when his players reach the majors, and he's on board with the program. He has been in pinch-me mode since last season, when he managed the three players with Dunedin in the Class A Florida State League.
"I think about it now," Schneider said, "because it's a unique thing. You don't see one of those guys usually, with the fathers they have and the careers the dads had and the careers they're having now as their own players. Getting one is pretty cool. Two is like, 'Whoa.' And with three, you need to really step back and realize what's going on."
In terms of makeup and demeanor, Toronto's baseball triplets are a disparate group. Guerrero, 19, has a ready smile and a serene, happy-go-lucky aura. Bichette, 20, treats each at-bat, video game standoff or pingpong match as a personal challenge. And Biggio, the most seasoned of the group at age 23, brings wisdom and perspective to the mix. "He's like the chaperone at the teenage party," Schneider said, laughing.
People around the Fisher Cats have noticed an attentiveness to detail beyond the genetically endowed gifts. It's manifested in the way the three players run the bases, or dissect opposing pitchers, or lean over the dugout rail to find evidence of pitch-tipping. Unlike some hereditary traits, baseball acumen doesn't skip a generation.
"We definitely have a bond on and around the field and in the clubhouse," Biggio said. "We all know that what we have is very special and what we've been through is very special. It's three different backgrounds that are all the same."
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.: The Hit Machine
Before a recent game at FirstEnergy Stadium in Reading, Pennsylvania, Guerrero emerged from the dugout to take batting practice with the same distinctively pained gait that heralded his dad's arrival at the plate through 16 major league seasons.
"He walks like his shoes are too small -- or he's got a pebble in one of them," said a scout watching from the third-base seats.
Guerrero laid down a bunt, then systematically peppered the outfield with line drives to all fields. As the BP session wound down, the Fisher Cats held a competition to see who could hit the ball the opposite way with maximum authority. Vlad Jr. quickly ended the suspense when he flicked his wrists and achieved splashdown in the fan pool beyond the right-field fence.
About an hour later, he went 2-for-4 with a walk in a 7-2 victory, and the Reading pitchers gratefully exhaled with the knowledge that it could have been worse. Guerrero was hitting .407 with an OPS of 1.124 when the Blue Jays shut him down for four weeks with a strained patellar tendon in his left knee, and Toronto management has received lots of unsolicited advice on the proper course of action for him.
Beyond some internal discussions about moving Guerrero to Triple-A, the Jays have chosen to keep him at Double-A to work on his defense and baserunning while allowing him to play in a winning environment with friends. The big league team is going nowhere, so the Jays are content to stand firm and follow a timetable they deem best for his long-term development.
The bat would play in the majors right now, personnel people agree. Is it possible to give out a grade above 80 on the 20-80 scouts' scale?
"With the plus bat speed and plus power, there are no weaknesses there," said the scout in Reading. "He's not just a hacker. He drives the ball out of the ballpark to any of the outfield positions. You can't work him away because he might hit a home run to right. You can't work him in because he has bat speed galore inside. If you're a pitcher, I don't know how you try to get him out, because he can leave the ballpark in any area."
Vladimir Guerrero Sr. was renowned for contorting his body into odd positions to do damage on balls outside the strike zone. Junior, in contrast, learned a more discerning approach at the plate with prompting from his Uncle Wilton, who ran a baseball academy back home in the Dominican Republic. Even though Senior loved to hack, he stressed the importance of getting a good pitch to hit when he talked baseball with his boy.
Vladimir Jr. received plenty of exposure to life in the big league clubhouse when his father played for the Angels from 2004 to 2009.
"I do remember some things, specifically sharing time with Erick Aybar and Mike Napoli and Kendrys Morales," Junior said through an interpreter. "They're happy memories for me. Whenever I went to the ballpark, I would spend time with them and try to learn from them."
Vlad Jr.-mania ramped up to 11 at the end of spring training, when he hit a walk-off homer to give Toronto a 1-0 victory over St. Louis. The shot evoked a wild response and pangs of nostalgia at Montreal's Olympic Stadium, where Senior made four of his nine All-Star Games.
"That was one of the most important games in my life," Vladimir Jr. said. "I was just trying to stay calm and make good contact. Thank god I was able to do it and hit the home run."
Junior's hiatus on the DL gives him a brief reprieve from the speculation, but it's likely to resume when he's healthy and raking again. Soon enough, Eastern League pitchers will receive the good news that he has been promoted, and he'll be somebody else's problem.
Bo Bichette: The Competitor
Dante Bichette earned a reputation as lovably flaky over 14 seasons with five big league clubs. When Dinger, the Colorado Rockies' purple dinosaur mascot, emerged from a faux shell during the team's inaugural season in 1993, it was only fitting that Bichette was the first human life form he encountered. Don Baylor, Colorado's manager, once recalled how Bichette would emerge from the tunnel before games with a cup of coffee in hand, glance up at the scoreboard and inquire, "Who's pitching today?" Then he'd take the field and go 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
Bichette named his oldest boy Dante Jr. and his second son Bo Joseph. The Bo was for Bo Jackson, and the Joseph was a shoutout to Joe Girardi, his friend and longtime pal in Denver.
For all the jokes about Bichette as sleepy-eyed space cadet, he was all business when the conversation turned to hitting. Bichette embraced the tenets of Ted Williams' book "The Science of Hitting" and wore out several copies through the years. He kept a detailed notebook of opposing pitchers and studied film of his at-bats before it became fashionable. His natural gifts and endless hours in the cage led to four All-Star Game appearances and 274 career homers with the Rockies, Angels and three other teams.
In 2013, Bichette spent a summer as hitting coach in Colorado. He missed his home life in Florida and underestimated the demands of the grind, but the assignment provided a wonderful opportunity for Bo to spend some time in a big league clubhouse and learn from Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and the other veteran Rockies.
"You could tell he had a work ethic," Nolan Arenado said. "He always wanted to be at the ballpark every day, hitting or doing something. He just wanted to play baseball."
The Rockies remember one other thing about Bo: For a relatively small kid, he took a supersized hack.
"He wanted to hit the ball hard, even when he was young," Gonzalez said. "When he was 14 or 15, he was hitting the ball over the fence in early BP at Coors Field. Even when he was just a puppy, he was swinging out of his butt. I remember telling him, 'Hit the ball out of the ballpark.' He was pushing himself even then and having success."
The Blue Jays gave Bo a $1.1 million bonus as the 66th pick in the 2016 draft, and they have aggressively pushed him through the system. Despite a slow start this year, he has a .284/.355/.448 slash line and 26 extra-base hits in 62 games. Some talent evaluators expect him to wind up at second base eventually, but Schneider thinks he has the hands, arm and smarts to stick at shortstop.
Like his dad, Bo is most comfortable standing in the batter's box. He has read the "The Science of Hitting" and filed away several nuggets for future reference.
"It's the best hitter that ever lived kind of teaching his secrets," Bo said. "There are a lot of good things in it."
When Dante Bichette was still playing and he fell behind 0-2 or 1-2 in the count, he would widen out his stance, take a flat-footed approach and shoot the ball to right field. Bo, similarly, will take a big rip until he's down two strikes and then shorten up and concentrate on making contact. He likens his approach to Tiger Woods gripping and ripping in the tee box before displaying a defter, gentler touch around the greens.
Bo Bichette is a throwback who has a profound distaste for striking out.
"I think it's probably the most important thing in baseball, to put the ball in play," he said. "You never know what could happen. I'm not someone who's going to hit 50 homers, so I have to be able to fight up there. A two-strike approach is really important."
Between his team and his family, young Bo has the support system in place to navigate the rough patches. His mother, Mariana, goes on many of the Fisher Cats' road trips, and he speaks regularly with Dante Jr., whose professional journey has been considerably more challenging. After seven years in the Yankees' system, Dante Jr. was released by the Rockies in spring training and is now playing independent ball for the St. Paul Saints. He is happy to commiserate and offer words of encouragement by phone or text to his little brother.
As Father's Day approaches, Bo is particularly appreciative of the man who began the family tradition he hopes to perpetuate.
"My dad and mom both ingrained the hard work in me," Bo said. "If I need to do more and I need extra, I'll call my dad and he'll fly up the next day. He's always there for me, always texting me after games and stuff. He's been everything for me for my baseball."
Cavan Biggio: The Thinker
Growing up the son of future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio had its perks.
As baseball-obsessed youngsters, Cavan Biggio and his older brother, Conor, would load up on sunflower seeds, bubble gum and soda and hang around the indoor batting cages at Minute Maid Park until Houston's pinch hitters ducked inside to get loose. Then they would respectfully step aside and collect the stray balls when the cage was empty. Woody Williams, Roger Clemens, Sean Berry and several other Astros had young sons, so it made for a nice little collaborative.
Lots of kids in Houston were partial to Craig Biggio 15 years ago because of his pine tar-encrusted helmet and aggressive style of play, but Cavan instead adopted Jeff Bagwell as his favorite player.
"Obviously, my dad is someone I idolized and I loved watching him play," Cavan said. "Every time he came to bat, I was on the edge of my seat. But I never wanted to be that kid when they asked, 'Who's your favorite player?' I would just answer, 'Oh, my dad.'
"When I was younger, I saw it more in a negative way. I always wanted to just be one of the guys on the team, doing normal things, and they'd label me as Craig Biggio's son, and I got really tired of that. It was only when I got to high school that I thought, 'This is really cool. My dad was an amazing baseball player and I'm trying to be the same thing, so why not embody it?"'
The toughest moments are the ones nobody sees. Craig Biggio was on the road a lot, so his wife, Patty, made sure the kids were fed, they did their homework, and they made it to the games on time. And FaceTime was not a thing when Biggio was nearing the end of his career in 2007.
"For 81 games a year and the six weeks you're in spring training, you're gone," Biggio said. "The mom is the one who picks the kids up after the game when they have a hard game. You might be in California, and you want to pick them up, but you can't. I'm very fortunate to have a great wife. It's hard for kids. Your dad is never there in the summer because he's always working."
The dynamic changed drastically in 2009, two years after Biggio retired from the Astros. He dove into coaching his two sons at St. Thomas High School in Houston, and they were suddenly around each other every day. Father made sure to treat his boys like everyone else, which meant running balls out, adhering to the fundamentals and abiding by his dual credos to "play the game right" and "respect the game."
Cavan passed on an opportunity to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies out of high school to play ball with his brother at Notre Dame. The Blue Jays selected him in the fifth round in 2016, and he hit .273 with no homers in his first 280 professional plate appearances.
The power started to come in 2017, and Cavan returned home to Texas last winter and made some alterations with his pre-pitch setup and the positioning of his hands. His 13 homers and .579 slugging percentage in 61 games this season have suddenly raised expectations. He has played second base, third, first and a little outfield in the minors. If he can continue to hit, the Blue Jays could eventually carve out a Marwin Gonzalez-Ben Zobrist-Scott Kingery type role for him with the big club to capitalize on his versatility.
"He's always been a self-taught, self-driven young man," Craig Biggio said. "The only thing I helped with was soft-toss and batting practice. I might say something occasionally, but he's very good at making adjustments and keeping his eyes and ears open. This was all him."
Biggio speaks with a palpable sense of pride in recounting the achievements of all three of his children. Conor received his bachelor's degree from Notre Dame and is pursuing an MBA from Rice University. Daughter Quinn, the youngest child, is heading to South Bend in the fall to play softball for the Fighting Irish. And now Cavan is immersed in the family business, hitting ropes from the left side of the plate.
Modern technology allows dad to keep tabs, at-bat by at-bat. Craig Biggio can monitor Cavan's progress on a cellphone app or watch his games on a computer screen while sitting in general manager Jeff Luhnow's box at Astros games. He doesn't see much of himself in Cavan's game, but there are times when Patty will nudge him and remark how their actions or mannerisms are eerily similar.
Unlike Craig, who holds MLB's modern-day hit-by-pitch record with 285, Cavan doesn't have a habit of leaning into fastballs. But he never shies away from them.
"He'll wear it, if he has to," Craig said. "Anything he needs to do to help the team win."
While Craig keeps watch, Cavan has grown more comfortable with his status as the son of a Hall of Famer and a Houston sports icon. He thinks about his responsibility every time he takes the field.
"I always say, 'I don't want to embarrass him or ruin the name,'" Cavan said. "I want people to say, 'He plays just like his father,' which is a good compliment. I want to show that I'm his son by the way I play."
Pride in the family crest is in vogue in Toronto's farm system this summer. The Fisher Cats will be on the road in Altoona, Pennsylvania, on Sunday. But every day is Father's Day in New Hampshire.