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Diamond Dancer

Hooks' Keystone Keeper Passionate Player
July 22, 2013

When did Enrique Hernandez first worm his way into the hearts of Hooks fans?

Thirsty Thursday night, August 23, 2012. Former Hooks lefty Rob Rasmussen - now a Dodgers farmhand - had pitched around some early trouble against the Midland RockHounds. With the Hooks nursing a 2-0 lead and about to hit in the fifth, Whataburger Field was plunged into darkness.

After a power outage of 65 minutes, event management and umpires decided to suspend the contest, setting it for resumption at 5 o'clock the next evening. During play stoppage, stadium lighting resumed at reduced power.

It's a scenario ballpark entertainment directors dread. Full house. No game. Limited power. How long?

And Enrique Hernandez and former utility infielder Andy Simunic came to the rescue. Simunic and wife Shawn own a Nashville dance studio. No doubt his moves helped capture her heart.

Enrique was the new guy, fresh from High-A Lancaster of the California League, where he'd been posted just 14 days earlier.

And they wowed the crowd with a dance-off to the Bee Gees' "Night Fever."

No one in attendance will soon forget.

"I do like to dance. I'm always dancing in the clubhouse, in the dugout," Hernandez said. "I get it from my parents. They love dancing."

Enrique Hernandez, Sr., is a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates and used to work for the Colorado Rockies. His wife, Monica Gonzalez, runs a boutique at home in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.

Like their only son - the oldest of three children- they are passionate about life.

It shows in his style of play.

"It's just the way I am, I guess," Hernandez stated matter-of-factly.

Playing professional baseball was his dream. He wanted to play from an early age and always managed to have fun.

"I started playing at six. I was playing for two teams at the same time. They were both the Marlins," Hernandez recalled. "I have video of me playing shortstop and doing cartwheels on the field. I would dive for balls after they passed me. I loved the Power Rangers and I was doing lots of Power Rangers stuff."

Some Hooks fans may think he's still in Power Rangers mode. His range and athleticism have produced highlight-reel plays throughout 2013. He played shortstop until pro ball and loves working the middle infield.

"You're always in the game. There's not one pitch or one play where you're not involved," Hernandez noted. "You're even backing up the pitcher on throws from the catcher. I'm really too hyper to play another position."

Playing in the middle serves him - and the Hooks - well. Hernandez' feel for the game is remarkable. To the uneducated, it may seem that he thrives on risk. Why would he insist on getting the lead runner at second with his momentum taking him away from the bag? Why contort your body? There's such a limited window. The easy out is at first. Right?

"It's just a lot of practice and I would say experience, more than anything. It all depends on the score and where you are in the game," Hernandez explained. "The situation. The inning. Who's running. Do you want to keep the double play in order or just get an out? It's a quick decision. You have to anticipate plays before they happen so you are ready."

Anticipation, athleticism, friendly competition and an "all-in" mentality have elevated the Hooks' level of infield play in 2013.

"This is my third year playing with Jio (Jiovanni Mier) and as a double-play combination this is our second year. He's unbelievable at shortstop. Having a good shortstop makes your job easier and makes you want to do better. Jio and Jonny (3B Jonathan Meyer) do a great job. Their double-play feeds are always on the money. I couldn't ask for more from them. We have each other's backs out there. There's good chemistry between us; each one of us wants to see the others succeed. We connect really well."

Hernandez' closest friend on the club is first baseman Erik Castro; utility man Ben Orloff was a trusted confidant before he retired to coach college baseball at alma mater UC Irvine.

Saying goodbye to friends along the way is one of pro baseball's realities. Hernandez is no stranger to dream-related sacrifice. He gave up a passion for volleyball in his mid-teens to focus on baseball.

"Baseball is the biggest sport in Puerto Rico. I had to give some things up along the way. When I was a kid, I was invited to sleepovers but had games over the weekends. In high school, my friends would go out but I'd stay in. I knew that if I wanted the opportunity to sign a pro contract I'd have to take it seriously. I never took baseball for granted."

But his sense of humor has helped along the way.

"I played on a school team (American Military Academy), but in Puerto Rico it's more about like what they call travel ball here," Hernandez said. "When I got to high school they hadn't won a game in five seasons. Now, they only played 12 to 18 games. I told the manager I could help him win at least one game."

AMA was winless in Enrique's freshman year. Over the "don't pitch" objections of his father, Hernandez threw a game as a sophomore and won. The team went to the playoffs his senior year.

But the developmental difference-maker? Team Mizuno.

"When I turned 17, I went to Team Mizuno. It's run by scouts to help prospects develop and get drafted. I owe them a lot. I wound up earning the shortstop job. My tools were raw; they helped me polish them."

Ten players from his edition of Team Mizuno were drafted, including current Frisco reliever Alex Claudio.

Hernandez was earlier exposed to international competition, playing as a youth at tournaments in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. At 12, his AAU team competed at Disney World in Orlando.

These days, Hernandez gets his volleyball fix through baby sister Loren, 8.

"She can run. She's a great athlete. Better than me."

According to Hernandez, there's no place better than Whataburger Field to watch Texas League baseball.

"It's unbelievable. Our stadium is the nicest in the league by far," he opined. "We have great fans and they know the game. The atmosphere really makes you want to play baseball. I love it here."

It shows.