September 26, 2021

Cuban Relaxation

May 19, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuba and Puerto Rico are never as close as when Pudge and Livan Hernandez are Nationals battery mates.  Rockies’ manager Jim Tracy said watching the two seasoned pros, “It’s like they are playing catch in the park.”  They are two of the most senior players in the game and still two of the most fun to watch play it.

Livan Hernandez found himself as a pitcher and as a person in Montreal, Canada after never quite finding a home after he came over from Cuba in 1996.  Following in the steps of his brother El Duque, he was a phenom in his first full season with the Marlins in 1997.  He was the Most Valuable Player in the NLCS and World Series that year winning two games against the Braves and the Indians as Florida won it all in just their fifth year.

Dave Dombrowski traded him to San Francisco after he could not achieve consistency subsequent to his excellent rookie year.  He was miserable in San Francisco. “Miami is still very close to Cuba.  He has a lot of friends there and San Francisco is about as far away as you can get,” explained El Duque of his brother’s unhappiness with the Giants.

In Montreal he was happy as the wise ace of the staff, but at no time was he better than when the team relocated to Washington, DC in 2005.  “Cuban Relaxation” was the nickname his team mates gave him that year in recognition of his easy style both on the field and in the clubhouse.

Hernandez made the All-Star team that year when he won 15 games.  It was his second straight year as an All-Star. But he was more than an All-star with Washington fans.  He was a fan favorite.  He could throw all day that year, going eight innings and tossing 145 pitches in one game in Washington’s unbearable August heat.  He pitched one of his best games late in the year after having his always swollen knee drained the day before.

TV color man for the Nats that year, Ron Darling, said of Livan, “I did not know he was this good.  He is truly marvelous to watch.”

Then there was the incident with the pitching jacket.  Frank Robinson took him out of the game and the disgust was written all over Hernandez.  As he got to the dugout he took his pitching jacket off in mock violent fashion and threw it into the crowd that was standing and applauding for another fine effort.  As if realizing he had forgotten something, he came back out and with a huge grin, threw his hat high into the crowd behind the dugout.

This year Hernandez is back at the top of the Nationals rotation, a place he feels comfortable, a place he belongs.  Although Tyler Clippard leads the team in wins inexplicably with seven, Livan is the best starter with a 4-1 record. When he leaves a game at the new Nationals stadium, the fans remember 2005 and stand in appreciation of all he has done to make baseball fun in Washington.

Perhaps the biggest contribution he can make this year is to the young players flooding the Nationals dugout.  Drew Storen’s glove was shaking he was so nervous in his first relief appearance against the Cardinals on Tuesday.  The next night he came in in relief of Livan and bailed out the Cuban ace.  He got his first career major league win looking far more “relaxed.”

Stephen Strasburg doesn’t look as though he will need any help in staying loose, but just in case, Livan Hernandez is in the house again.  And he has the perfect prescription for Washington baseball fans and the team’s young players.

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