By: CJ Harbach
Exiting the IronBirds dugout, Manny Hernandez sported an easy smile and a relaxed attitude just a few hours before game time. And why shouldn’t he? He has already accomplished his objective for the 2012 season.
Last week, on August 19th the outfielder turned 20-years-old, and three days later was promoted. On the 21st, Hernandez was called up from the Orioles Gulf Coast League in Sarasota to play in the New York Penn League at Aberdeen.
Hernandez was signed as a non-draft free agent out of his hometown in Guatemala three years ago when he was only 17-years-old. He spent a season in the Dominican Summer League in 2010, and from the 2011 season until August this year in the GCL.
“I was young and everyone was much older than I was,” Hernandez said about signing in 2009. “I was playing hard and doing my work when they said I was good.” On his promotion, “I didn’t think I was going to come to Aberdeen. I had two injuries in the GCL. I sprained my left wrist and was hit by a pitch in my right.”
Although there has yet to be a Guatemalan in the major leagues, Hernandez has plans to be the first. Like his teammates, playing in the major leagues is his primary goal. Hernandez knows of only four other Guatemalans in the minor leagues, none of which are as far along in the MiLB system as him. Two players are in the Orioles system, one in the rookie league in Gulf Coast and the other in the DSL. Of the remaining, one plays for in the Pittsburg Pirates organization, and the last was released from the San Diego Padres organization.
Hernandez’s most recent goal of becoming an IronBird by the end of the 2012 season was recently accomplished, while his next immediate goal in the future is to play for the Frederick Keys.
It was only 15 years ago when Hernandez realized that baseball was his passion and he began without using traditional baseballs. “I was five-years-old and I used to play in my grandma’s garden, hitting lemons with a broom. She was mad every time she caught me,” Hernandez joked.
Before coming to the States, Hernandez was sent to Puerto Rico to play little league and spent some time playing baseball at school while living with his mother.
Off the baseball diamond in Guatemala City, Hernandez liked to test fate with extreme sports. He largely spent time practicing sports like surfing, bungee jumping, Mixed Martial Arts, and plans to take on sky diving. “When I was a kid, I was playing baseball and fighting. My little brother is like that, too.”
“I have very good support from my family. My mom is very happy, but sad. She cries every time I talk to her. She keeps saying, ‘You made it, you reached your goal,’” Hernandez said while touching the tattoo of his mother’s name he placed on the inside his left forearm.
Wrapped around his right forearm, is the tattoo of a rosary with the cross on the inside, which matches the colorful rosary found around his neck. “I wear it as a promise to a friend who passed away.” To give an idea of his character, during our ten minute interview Hernandez stepped in between me and two rouge foul balls that careened towards the IronBirds clubhouse. Living with his mother must have had a positive effect.