Hernandez leads this year’s senior class with strong work ethic

Juan Hernandez gets a base hit in the seventh inning during the first game of the Pittsburg State doubleheader. Southern lost game one 4-1.

Juan Hernandez gets a base hit in the seventh inning during the first game of the Pittsburg State doubleheader. Southern lost game one 4-1.

Amye Buckley

When Juan Hernandez arrived at Missouri Southern four years ago, the senior group was fairly small.

He describes this year’s core group of seniors as talented, experienced and ready to help the next group along.

“The seniors have a lot of to pass down in this conference,” Hernandez said.

The seniors can list the strengths and weaknesses of other players in the league and tendencies of other teams. Hernandez says the program is growing and additional facilities will give a leg up to the next group of players.

“The on-campus field will help as more of the folks on campus and in the community and student body become more aware of the program,” he said. “And winning helps too.”

He came to Missouri Southern because he was offered a full scholarship and the chance to play baseball starting as a true freshman. He stayed because he wanted to be able to finish his degree in those four years.

“My patience paid off,” Hernandez said pointing out the team’s progress in the past few years.

Hernandez is the only player to evenly divide his baseball career at Southern between the two most recent coaches.

“I’m the only four-year senior [on the team],” he said.

He spent two years under Coach Warren Turner and, after Turner retired, two years under Coach Bryce Darnell. The two men have a drastically different coaching style, but sticking with the team has paid off for him.

“I learned a lot of baseball knowledge from Turner,” Hernandez said. “And a lot of baseball application from Coach Darnell.”

This year Hernandez was one of the elected team captains.

“My role is to set an example,” he said.

Passing on a strong work ethic is part of his leadership role.

Hernandez led the team in hits in 2007 with 60 hits. He was the 2006 single season leader in fielding percentage at .992 and holds the second highest cumulative fielding percentage at .989, fielding this year at .986. Individually he is tied with players Matt Nelson and David Fisher for most triples in a game with two during a 2006 game against Washburn.

This year his chief worry is the upcoming series against nationally ranked Emporia State, but he believes the team will pull through.

“We’ve got a group of starting pitchers that have been unbelievable for us,” Hernandez said. “They always give us a chance to win games.”

Baseball has been a part of his life for almost as long as Hernandez can remember.

His father, Edgardo Hernandez, was a semi-pro pitcher in Puerto Rico, where baseball is a popular sport.

“My dad introduced me to the sport of baseball at 2-years-old,” Hernandez said.

His father was his coach as well, giving him pointers and working with him.

“There is nothing like a batting session with my father,” Hernandez said. “He was always my coach.”

At home he and his father root for their favorite team, the New York Mets with Carlos Beltran, but, to Hernandez, the best player of all-time is a Puerto Rican icon, Roberto Clemente.

When he returns home, it will be to help run the family business. Although he loves the sport, baseball was just a means to get his education.

Hernandez was born in San Turee, Puerto Rico. The family moved from Puerto Rico to Florida. When he was 4-years-old and Hernandez began playing little league in Orlando.

When he graduates in May, Hernandez will drive back to Florida bringing his international business degree into the business. His family sells and rents party supplies and staging equipment.

He plans to develop his own branch, doing business in both Florida and Puerto Rico.

He will be glad to get back. He is still not used to the Missouri cold, even after four years.

“I missed not being able to speak Spanish and I missed the foods I’m used to,” he said.