Rookie Hernaiz enjoys moment with idol Báez

April 9th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Martín Gallegos’ A’s Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

DETROIT -- A few hours before Friday’s series opener at Comerica Park, A's infielder emerged from the visitors' clubhouse. Leaning against the top railing of Oakland's dugout, he scanned the entire field. Once he glanced at the left side of the infield, though, his eyes were fixated.

Taking grounders at shortstop was Javier Báez -- the same Báez whom Hernaiz grew up idolizing in Puerto Rico. Hernaiz bided his time, waiting for the right time to approach the Tigers star. That moment finally came on Saturday before Oakland’s 4-0 victory.

“I got to introduce myself,” Hernaiz said. “He told me, whatever I need, to just hit him up. It was awesome.”

Saturday was the first meeting between the two, but Hernaiz already knew pretty much everything about Báez. His cousin, Bryan De La Rosa, was high school teammates with Báez at Arlington Country Day School in Florida, recounting several stories of the shortstop’s dominance as an amateur.

"Crazy story,” Hernaiz said. “[Báez] grew up with my cousin. So, I’ve known and heard about Javy since he was 12 years old.”

These are the full-circle moments Hernaiz is looking to fully take in this season. It can be challenging for a young player, especially one with such high expectations as Hernaiz -- who is ranked as Oakland’s No. 4 prospect by MLB Pipeline -- but he is doing his best to take some time to realize the childhood dream he’s playing out in real life.

“It’s my first time going through the league," Hernaiz said. “I’m just soaking it in. Stepping back and enjoying the ride.”

Meeting Báez almost made it a perfect weekend for Hernaiz. The only thing missing was his first Major League hit, which has eluded him nine games into his Major League career.

It’s not the ideal situation for a rookie just starting out. Hernaiz was a strong candidate to earn the starting third base job out of Spring Training before the A’s signed veteran third baseman J.D. Davis late into camp. Hernaiz still made the Opening Day roster, but his role is limited as a backup at short and third for the time being.

The 22-year-old has only started three of Oakland’s first 10 games, going 0-for-9 with four strikeouts entering Tuesday.

“Honestly, I feel good at the plate,” Hernaiz said. “I know maybe my results aren’t there, but I feel comfortable. It’s different coming off the bench, for sure. Unlike starting every day, you don’t get any rhythm going. But I feel comfortable.”

Hernaiz added: “I haven’t gotten my first hit. Obviously ... I want that first hit and get going from there. But I feel fine. I want to play a little bit more, but that’s out of my control. I really just want to win games. Whatever I need to do to win games, I don’t mind. I know that I obviously need to play better.”

Hernaiz noted that he has been a slow starter at every level of the Minors, so he’s not really worried about the lack of immediate success in his first big league stint. He believes it will come with time. The more reps he gets, the better he will be.

“I’m not pressing or anything like that,” Hernaiz said. “I believe in my ability. I know I’ll be fine in the long term. I believe I’m going to be a good hitter for a long time. I’m working as hard as I can every day behind the scenes. Working super hard in the weight room, in the cage and defensively to make sure that when I’m there every day, I’m more polished.”

For now, Hernaiz will continue trying to make the most of the playing time he does receive, while also looking forward to more experiences like his Báez encounter. Circled on his calendar is a mid-August road series against the Mets in New York, where he could meet another idol in Francisco Lindor.

“I watched these guys growing up,” Hernaiz said. “I want to play well and show them that I’m on their level.”