What happens when the name you go by is a derogatory slur? That’s the funny story of Miami Marlins’ new utility youngster Enrique “Kike” Hernandez, whose nickname is also a derogatory term for Jewish people.
Hernandez is born and raised from San Juan, Puerto Rico, so the nickname Kike is actually pronounced KEE-Kay. It doesn’t come with an accent mark, but it got one during a minor league broadcast when Hernandez was playing in the short season Single-A New York-Penn League.
“Teams started using an accent to avoid controversy,” Hernandez said. “I don’t mind it. It’s in Spanish. If you don’t read it in Spanish, it can be offensive.”
After dominating Double-A with a .336 batting average, the Houston Astros called Hernandez up to be their starting center fielder. He followed that up with a solid .284 batting average and then after a month in the majors, he was traded to the Miami Marlins on July 31, 2014, along with Jarred Cosart for prospects Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran, Francis Martes and their 2015 competitive balance draft pick.
One would think the acclamation process would be similar from team to team, but Hernandez and Cosart, it was quite different.
“I would say it’s a lot different,” Hernandez said. “In Houston, I knew pretty much all the guys from the minor leagues. My best friend from back home plays for that team, backup catcher Carlos Coporan. So he made everything so much easier. And then I come here with Cosart, and I know Cosart and that’s it. I don’t know anybody else.”
Hernandez said that getting to know a new team and a new league is a fun experience so far. He was supposed to come in as the next second baseman despite primarily playing center field in the big leagues, but because of the establishment in the outfield and the hot hand of current second baseman Jordany Valdespin, Hernandez has been relegated to the utility role.
His two pinch hitting at-bats have been his only contribution so far with the Marlins. Eventually, he’ll be given the opportunity to provide more of an impact. Hernandez said he knows what kind of hitter he is – not a power hitter like Giancarlo Stanton -- and his new ballpark actually helps hitters like him.
“I think this big stadium is going to be to my advantage, based on the way I hit, because I’m going to try to hit home runs,” Hernandez said. “I’m going to try to hit line drives.”
Like Hernandez, Cosart can also thrive in their new surroundings. The 24-year-old righty went 9-7 with a 4.41 ERA in 20 starts for the Astros this season after posting a 1.95 ERA in ten starts last season as a rookie. Cosart is a ground ball pitcher and according to Hernandez, he should thrive in Marlins Park despite his shaky debut.
In fact this entire Marlins pitching staff is better with Cosart, according to Hernandez. The 22-year-old has played against his old division rivals, the Los Angeles Angels and the Oakland Athletics, the top two teams in the American League. He also faced the Marlins before getting traded and was very impressed with their bullpen can do.
“We faced them at home when I was with the Astros at Minute Maid Park,” Hernandez said, “and we faced them after facing Oakland. We all thought this bullpen was better than Oakland’s bullpen and Oakland’s bullpen is considered to be one of the best in baseball.
“This staff is very young and they’re only going to get better,” he added. “Adding Cosart to the rotation is going to be great.”