FORT MYERS, FLA. -- Rodolfo (Rudy) Hernandez signed with the New York Mets and he was 21 before his professional career started with a rookie team in Kingsport, N.C. in 1987. He was a second baseman and third baseman and advanced as high as Class AA before being released in 1991.
Rudy was an outstanding student of the science of hitting; he just didn’t execute the art well enough to fulfill the dream of reaching the big leagues as a player.
Hernandez played in the Mexican League in 1992 and that was end of his playing career in organized baseball. He went home to Maracay, Venezuela and played from 1993 to 1996 in a summer league made up of sponsored semi-pro teams.
Rudy went 300-plus miles from Maracay to the southeastern state of Bolivar to play for a team managed by Mario Gonzalez Sr., a well-known Venezuelan baseball man.
Les Straker, a starter for the World Series-winning Twins in 1987, was on the team at age 33. So was Mario Jr., the manager’s son, when he wasn’t playing in the low minors in the United States.
“When we had home games, there was also Mario’s young son running around,’’ Hernandez said. He smiled and added, “About this high,’’ while holding his right hand three feet off the ground.
The little kid was 4 and his name was Marwin.
Major league baseball established the Venezuelan Summer League for rookies in 1997. It lasted in a declining form through 2015, when the country’s turmoil caused major league teams to move the young Venezuelan players to rookie teams in the Dominican Republic.
Enrique Brito, the Twins’ man in Venezuela, hired Rudy for the staff at the team’s academy in Bejuma in the late '90s. Soon, Rudy was running the academy instruction. In 2000, he managed the Twins’ summer league team for young Venezuelans in nearby San Joaquin.
Hernandez came to the States to manage the rookie team in Elizabethon, Tenn. in 2001 and was a do-everything part of the organization for 14 years -- mostly as a hitting instructor.
And then in 2015, Rudy finally made it to the big leagues: as the assistant hitting coach on Paul Molitor’s first staff to Tom Brunansky. Four years later, Hernandez has survived the upheaval in the organization and maintains a role as the assistant to hitting coach James Rowson.
There are three holdovers among new manager Rocco Baldelli’s coaching staff: bench coach Derek Shelton, Rowson and Hernandez.
What’s said here in spring training is that Rudy stayed because the veteran players were unanimous in giving positive feedback on how much they liked working with him – how impressed they were with his commitment to the job.
And as of Monday, there’s a new hitter that Rudy Hernandez will be working with in the early mornings in the batting cages:
Little Marwin, the kid running around the field with the semi-pro summer team in Bolivar, Venezuela.
Marwin Gonzalez, soon to be 30, a major league veteran, and the No. 1 play-everywhere guy in the game, was introduced as the newest Twin, after signing a two-year, $21 million contract as a free agent.
“It’s fun to remember that little kid and see what he is as a player, as a man," Hernandez said. “We’re lucky to have him.’’