WASHINGTON – Yadiel Hernandez was at the alternate site in Fredericksburg earlier this week when he and other players gathered around Randy Knorr, his Triple-A manager last season at Fresno in the Pacific Coast League.
The left fielder, at the age of 32, learned he was being called up to the Major Leagues for the first time.
“It was a very special moment for me,” said Hernandez, via translator Octavio Martinez in a Zoom call from Nationals Park. “You always have that hope – don’t stop believing you get that phone call.”
“Everyone was there to congratulate him,” infielder Jackson Cluff, a Colorado native who played last season for Hagerstown, told Federal Baseball.
The outfielder then called his parents and sister in Cuba.
“At first, they were in shock,” Hernandez said Friday. “They were excited for me and it was a very special moment for me. It is a huge sacrifice to get here. But it’s not about getting here – it’s about staying here and helping my team win.”
He told Federal Baseball, as a boy in Cuba, his favorite players were Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera.
“As a little kid, unfortunately, we were not able to watch at a lot of the (Major League) games,” he said.
“You grow up trying to play in the best league in the world, which is Major Leagues here,” Hernandez added. “Just thinking back, a lot of hard work. A look back at all of the years in the minor leagues. I thank God for the opportunity. It is very gratifying to be here.”
His manager in the majors, Davey Martinez, was born to Puerto Rican parents in New York.
“He was very excited for me,” Hernandez said of Martinez.
Hernandez made his Major League debut as a pinch-runner on Thursday for the Nationals.
Martinez said Friday he wants to see Hernandez get some at-bats, and the skipper may start Hernandez on Saturday against the Braves as regular left fielder Juan Soto is still banged up.
“I’m thinking about even possibly starting him tomorrow, we’ll see how things play out,” the manager said.
“I want to see him get some at bats up here. Like I said, I want to see him play the field a little bit as well.
“Could be a possibility he plays left field tomorrow or if not tomorrow in the next coming days, but I want to get him out there and see what he can do.
“I know he can hit. I’m excited to see him play. Like I said, here’s a guy that hits the ball hard, very hard to all fields, so I want to see what he can do.”
Brad Holman was the Triple-A pitching coach for Syracuse in 2018 and then last year at Fresno in the Pacific Coast League.
During that time, Hernandez hit a combined 44 homers in 221 games in the two cities.
“He can flat-out hit, by the way,” Holman told Federal Baseball on Friday. “He is just a grinder. He is a super person. He has a great sense of humor.”
Cluff, drafted out of BYU last season by the Nationals, is one of the few Single-A players who are part of the 60-player pool, and he got to know Hernandez in Fredericksburg.
“The alternate site has been my opportunity to be around him and get to know him on a personal level,” Cluff said. “He brings that veteran presence. He was cool about being around the younger guys. He hit one opposite-field homer over the left-field wall. He got a lot of base hits.”
Holman said the rise of Hernandez – at the age of 32 – is similar to that of right-handed pitcher Dakota Bacus.
After 225 games in the minors, Indiana State product Bacus made his Major League debut earlier this season for the Nationals on Aug. 9.
“It is going to be interesting to see how he fares at the Major League level,” Holman said.
“He has a great sense of humor. He is the kind of guy who never has a bad day. He is great for the younger guys, especially the Latin guys. He has the ability to hit the ball the other way with power. It makes him for a tougher out, even with an inside pitch.”
After playing in Cuba, Hernandez signed with the Nationals and began his career in North America with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators in 2017.
He then made his MLB debut as a pinch-runner Thursday. “Obviously, I was very happy and excited to be out there,” said Hernandez, who came to the U.S. with his wife and daughter.
“It felt natural since I had been with the team since Spring Training. I feel like I finally have reached my goal. I got here, and through all the sacrifice I went through I finally made it.”