Yesterday marked the home opener for the Saint Paul Saints, an independent team from the American Association of Professional Baseball. The Saints would end up losing in extra innings to New Jersey Jackals, but like most Saints games, the efforts on the field are less important to the majority of fans. Saints games harken back to the old days a little, with the team using tricks, gags, promotions, events, and anything else they can to get people to the ballpark (the ownership group involves Bill Veeck’s son, after all). Yes there’s a baseball game going on, but the atmosphere and reasonable prices are what draws fans.
I, due to proclivities that have haunted/assisted me throughout my life, usually give too much attention to the play on the field. I certainly enjoy the races and trivia and people getting dunked in cottage cheese between the innings, but I pay more attention than most to what’s going on during the game. It’s because of this that I got to see Jose Hernandez.
Jose Hernandez was drafted in the late rounds of 2009 by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but has apparently fallen out of favor there and is now in the independent leagues. It may be because of the lowered level of competition, but Hernandez was the star for the Saints on Thursday. He went 2 for 4 (both doubles) with an RBI, and had two great defensive plays. Playing center field, he laid out for a very nice inning-ending, run-saving catch. In a later inning, he kept a runner at third from scoring on a sacrifice by throwing an absolute pea to home from shallow center. No bounce, almost no arc. Just a frozen rope. Moments like these stick out to me. The Saints and whoever their opponents are usually play sloppy baseball. The pitching can be OK, but there are lots of throwing errors, poor outfield defense, and a head-shaking amount of outs made on the bases. It’s kind of the fun of it, but it be comes tiresome after a while. This is why Hernandez’s play is a welcome site. He is a diamond in the rough, even if his diamond were somewhat cloudy to begin with.
Hernandez is also the owner of something I can’t say I’ve seen often, if ever. One of his doubles, the one in the bottom of the 7th inning, was a broken-bat double. This wasn’t a solid double where I could tell his bat had cracked. His bat exploded in two, the ball flared out to right-center, and a combination of outfield incompetence and Hernandez’s speed allowed him to take second. I feel as if my words do not do it justice. It was just fantastic.
And this is why I love independent baseball. I’m certainly aware that there are good and terrible plays to be found in MLB. But in the American Association, the bad happens so much more, that the good shines that much brighter. There aren’t a whole lot of success stories of players getting plucked from the AA to a major-league system, and Jose Hernandez certainly has a long shot. But I know I’ll be circling his name in my score card when I go to my next game. I usually pick a player of interest for every season, for reasons due to baseball or not, and Hernandez is in the front running for this totally worthless prize this year. Let’s hope he doesn’t disappoint.