CLEARWATER, FL – Nicholas Hernandez is called “Papa Hern” by both his teammates and the Philadelphia Phillies.
That might seem strange for a 24-year-old, but five years in the minors, surviving two season-ending injuries and refusing to give it up tends to create respect among one’s peers.
The Phillies even found a way for him to contribute during the healing process – by naming him a translator.
“It gave me an appreciation for the wonderful things that we have here that we take for granted,” said Hernandez, sitting on a bench outside the Paul Owens training facility.
“These kids come over and this is their dream, just as it’s mine and everyone else to play Major League Baseball someday.”
The 24-year-old, 6-foot-5 lefty has no regrets as he sits after finishing his session at Bright House Field. He looks to make his re-introduction to a game that he was born to play.
Hernandez looks back to a time where he wasn’t known as “papa”. With a 3-1 record and a solid 1.61 ERA and 52 Strikeouts to start his season in 2010, his future became fuzzy.
“The original diagnosis was just weakness in my shoulder,” Hernandez said. “There was a little bit of discomfort in my shoulder, but nothing to where I said I’m going to need surgery.
“I threw an outing against the Blue Jays [in the minors], two innings, did great, felt great.”
Came the next morning and I couldn’t even lift my arm. So I came here to the field talked to the trainer and he said it’s time you have surgery.
He had a complete Labral tear in his left shoulder, fraying in his rotator cuff and closure of his Rotator interval. His 2010 season was over.
“It’s usually a full year for full recovery time after this surgery. Sixteen months later, I’m throwing [in the] bullpens and my arm is not responding. It was not responding,” he said.
“The ball was not coming out there with life. So I went to see a doctor and he took another MRI and he said there’s a possibility that you have another Labral tear.”
This presented a crossroad for Hernandez. Ready to pack it in and call it a career, he needed to reflect.
“I didn’t think that I could go through that surgery, go through that full rehabilitation process again and make it back being where I need to be mentally.
“At that point in time, I called my parents and told them ‘if this doctor is right, I think I’m just going to not take part in this surgery. I’m just going to hang it up.’”
Time to go back to the team’s medical staff and reveal what was going on.
At the advice of trainers, he went to their surgeon, Dr. Craig Morgan in Wilmington, Delaware for a second opinion.
“He showed me the MRI and said ‘Nick, you don’t have a labral tear. He said, there’s your labrum and showed it to me and it was completely intact, but you do have a massive amount of scar tissue.”
That scar tissue impacted Hernandez’s rotator cuff and impacted his strength for throwing a baseball. With the ineffectiveness of cortisone shots, Dr. Morgan suggested a procedure called “complete debridement”, which cleans the scar tissue.
“Come six weeks later, I start throwing and the ball’s coming out of my hand much better. Going in to [the Florida Instructional League] finally stepped on a mound, threw a bullpen session and finally the last day of instructional, threw to hitters. And it came full circle”
Hernandez Sr. was a first round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 1978, and his uncle Angel is currently an MLB umpire. Baseball is in his blood. Two years removed from the game, He’s glad to be back on the diamond.
“It’s great to finally just be doing the ‘pre-hab’ rather than rehab” he joked.