Friday, February 18, 2011

All in the Family

22-year-old pitching prospect Nick Hernandez's father helps him stay fit during the off-season


Phillies pitching prospect Nick Hernandez spent much of the 2010 regular season on the disabled list with an injury to his throwing shoulder. The 6'4", 215 pound lefty, who was named a mid-season South Atlantic League all-star with the Class A Lakewood BlueClaws, attempted comebacks twice during the season, making rehab outings for the rookie level Gulf Coast League Phillies, but experienced setbacks that curtailed his return to the mound and kept him from helping his teammates lock down a second consecutive league championship for Lakewood.

In 8 starts with the BlueClaws last season, the 12th round draft pick from 2009 posted a 3-1 record with a 1.61 ERA and averaged 7 innings per start.

Hernandez's strength is throwing a lot of strikes and he owes some of his success to his father, also named Nick (Dad's full first name is spelled Nicolas, while son's name is spelled Nicholas). The elder Nick was drafted in the first round by the Brewers, as a catcher, back in 1978.

Papa Nick is long retired from baseball, but that doesn't stop him from helping his son strive to excel by working out during the off-season as his personal bullpen catcher. Whether it's a day of long toss or a bullpen session, father and son propel one another. The older Nick benefits from the workouts nearly as much as his son. Nick finds that his duty as his son's Winter battery mate motivates him to stay fit both physically and mentally.

"What Nick's doing now (in the minors), I did 30 years ago. I'm 51 years old, but when I put on the mitt and the mask, I pretend I'm back when I'm 20 years old," the older Nick said.

He adds that he'll go as long, and as frequently, as his son needs him to, in order to get his work in.

"I don't let him let up. I tell him to do his thing and not to worry about me," said the senior Nick.

Dad's own dream unfortunately fell short, as he never played higher than Double A. However, the elder Nick now has new hopes. Nicolas would love to see Nicholas reach heights that he didn't, but his son's achievements are not something that Dad will use to live vicariously through.

"I don't look at Nick's career, or his success through my eyes. This is his dream. It's what Nick puts into it that will determine what Nick gets out of it. I push him a bit, but he works hard already. He's a kid who's really focused. He knows that hard work and dedication is what's going to help him reach his goals," Nicolas stated.

Papa Nick tries to be a motivator for his son and realizes there are limitations to what he can teach him at this point. The older Nick stopped teaching and offering baseball tips to young Nick when he was about age 15. He never wanted to interfere with any of his coaches' teachings or curtail anything he has worked on.

The senior Nick feels as though his son Nick's learning skills have greatly improved, since he has been with the Phillies. He points out a noticeable increase in younger Nick's maturity and credits the Phillies organization with helping him grow as a pitcher.

"I've seen a big change in that- in his attitude, in his demeanor, the way he approaches things. It's definitely 100 percent better than he was when he was in college at the University of Tennessee," Nick stated.

The Nicks have another relative that officially qualifies the sport of baseball as something that runs in the family. Major League umpire Angel Hernandez is brother to Nicolas. Papa Nick says of his son, "He comes from a good breed."

During the season, Nicolas keeps the family unity going and makes time to see his son pitch, thanks to his job. Papa Nick works as a truck driver and incorporates his son's playing schedule into his own itinerary. He traveled from south Florida to Lakewood, NJ three separate times and was able to see Nick pitch on the road in three different road cities during the 2010 season. Having that support there to steadily back him helps the less ripe Nick bear down and really display his talents.

Going forward, younger Nick, who says he now feels that his shoulder is at 100 percent, is focused on having a full season, free of injuries, in order to make the most progress and learn as much as he possibly can. Dad feels that is just what this year holds in store.

"He's focused on having a healthy year and giving the Phillies a whole season. Baseball is definitely his biggest priority in life right now, so 2011 should be a good year for him."

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