By Migue Guerra
There is no doubt that star pitcher Orlando «El Duke» Hernández has been one of the best hurlers in Cuban baseball history. This statement is strongly supported by the excellent service sheet he accomplished during his career in the National Series, the Cuban team and the Big Leagues.
He had an impressive .728 winning percentage during ten seasons in Cuba, with 126 wins and only 47 defeats, a record that still stands. Besides, he had a 3.05 ERA, a 1.19 WHIP and an opponent average of .238, while facing powerful hitters and aluminum bats. He also struck out 1,211 batters and issued just 457 walks, an example of control and command, and winning it all with Industriales in 1992 and 1996.
After succeeding with the Cuban National Team as well, winning a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, he was excluded from the Atlanta 1996 Games and later banned for life from Cuban baseball, following suspicion of a potential defection to follow on the steps of his brother Liván Hernández.
All this moved the hurler to leave Cuba and try to look for a future as a professional player, ultimately signing with the New York Yankees in 1998, a franchise he played with until 2004 and with which he won three World Series rings, adding a fourth with the 2005 Chicago White Sox.
However, all these results could have been lost in history if El Duque had not dismissed the opinions about his quality, given by Cuban coaches during his junior times. Not everything was rosy, but his confidence and hard work put him in a sacred place within Cuban baseball.
“I remember that in my last year as a junior, I was training in EIDE (Cuban sports schools). I would only go for that, for training, until I played the provincial junior championship with them and they (said that they) would announce a preliminary roster,” said El Duque, during his participation on “El Show the Swing Completo”, a space in our YouTube channel.
“After the first day, only a day of training, which was just physical training, something I was really good at, they told me that I was eliminated from the team because they thought I had no quality to play baseball,” he added.
“It is really hard to say that to a kid! Those are the little things the coaches sometimes tell the kids, and I think there are other ways of saying such things. Well, I was told that way, rude. I cried all the way from Ciudad Deportiva to Wajay… people (on the street) asked me what was wrong,” said the storied pitcher.
“But before leaving, I told everyone who was there: I am going to slap you all without using my hands. Good luck. See you along the way,” he remembered.
“I left crying like a kid because it was the last chance I was going to have. I was never in EIDE, or went to School Games or any of those things. I could not enjoy those things that some of my friends tell me they had. I always tell them I have no stories for them,” said Hernández.
“Then, I started training and set myself a goal. I promised myself something and I had to keep that promise: devote myself to baseball. Thank God, my grandma always supported me,” he stressed.
“Thank God, I made it. God is so great, that when I was already playing in the National Series and also a member of the Cuban team, one day I was walking from the Ciudad Deportiva towards Estadio Latinoamericano and I decided to cross behind the Estadio Changa Mederos. Coincidentally, in that very stadium, in the tunnel, was where I was kicked out,” he remembered.
“People, I am not lying!” he said. “I ran into one of the coaches of that previous time and he told me ‘Oh, Duque, good afternoon. I congratulate you on your great performances.’ I said ‘Good afternoon, respectfully, let me remind you something. Do you remember the time when, in the tunnel of this very stadium you told me I was not good enough to play baseball? I am sorry to tell you that you were wrong. Have a good day.’ And I walked away.”
“That is something that only God can make happen, because He knows how to put people on the right track. You can never feel defeated. You can never give up. You have to keep on fighting and believe in yourself,” were some of the words El Duque said.