Pranks, bananas and a $1 million bet: The Kik Hernndez experience in 16 stories (2024)

1. The story teammates tell of the best day of Kiké Hernández’s baseball life starts in the batting cages at Wrigley Field a few hours before Game 5 of the 2017 NLCS — the Dodgers against the reigning champion Cubs. Hernández took a few swings and told teammate Kyle Farmer, “I’m gonna hit a home run tonight.” He said the same to his dad. Then he texted his mom, back in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, to find somewhere with a generator and a TV to watch the game. Hernández hadn’t homered in more than two months.


And then, during batting practice, Hernández saw Dodgers owner Mark Walter and asked him to help the fundraiser Hernández and his wife, Mariana Vicente, had started in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria two weeks prior, reach its $100,000 goal. Hernández told teammates later that Walter had promised to donate $1 million if Hernández reached base twice that night.

On the first pitch he saw, Hernández hit a solo home run. On the second, a grand slam. He raised a finger in the air as he rounded the bases.

Hernández had already won the wager, helping to send the Dodgers to their first World Series since before he was born, but then it was his turn to bat again. “He gets on deck, and I see him talking,” Farmer remembers. “Kiké’s like, ‘(Walter) said, ‘If you hit another one, I’ll double it.’” With two outs in the ninth, Hernández delivered another million-dollar swing, drilling his third homer of the game into the dark night. He bounced around the bases, whooping and smiling all the way, and pointed at Walter in the stands.

“That’s why when he hits the homer and crosses home plate,” former Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling says, “he’s doing the Johnny Manziel money sign.”

2. Kiké Hernández is bananas.

He hits moonshots. He throws missiles. He wages war with outfield walls. He ends one inning with a diving catch and begins the next with a home run. He’s setting postseason records left and right, batting .500 with five homers and nine extra-base hits in seven games in October. Kyle Schwarber told the rest of the Red Sox, “Let’s be like Kiké.” Alex Verdugo, Hernández’s teammate in Los Angeles and Boston, is now calling him: Kiké “The Babe” Hernández.

And, on top of all that, he might be the most entertaining man in the majors.

The late Tommy Lasorda had a habit of visiting the Dodgers clubhouse not long before the first pitch of every home game. The Hall of Fame manager would circle the clubhouse chatting with players, but he always wanted to talk to Hernández most of all. Whenever Lasorda would walk into the room, “Kiké was usually just naked, standing there looking at Tommy,” former Dodger David Freese says, laughing, “and Tommy was like, ‘This f*ckin’ guy!’”


Lasorda was in his 90s at the time, and Hernández in his 20s.

“Just two dudes going back and forth, lighting each other up,” Freese says.

3. Hernández is the spur-of-the-moment sort. Once, on a rehab assignment to Double-A Tulsa, he was mid-conversation with Farmer when hunger struck.

Hernández: “Hey, do you want to go to Whataburger?”

Farmer: “Uh, we’ve got a game in 30 minutes.”

Hernández: “That’s fine. It’s right down the road.”

The two of them, in uniform, hopped in Hernández’s rental car and drove the two miles to Whataburger. They rolled through the drive-thru, got burgers and headed back to the ballpark. The trip took 20 minutes. No one noticed Farmer and Hernández were gone, except for the fans who saw them pulling into the parking lot. Theystarted for Tulsa that night on full stomachs. “That was my first Kiké experience,” Farmer says, “where I was like, this guy is unbelievable.”

4. When Hernández was 4, his father, Enrique Sr., took him to a baseball clinic in their city of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. After the first day, little Kiké said he never wanted to return because the sun was too hot. So, he never did.

When he was 6, Hernández tagged along to his father’s games and played Wiffle ball alone off to the side. He was a happy yet hyper child, Enrique Sr. says in Spanish, and after a while he was bored of playing by himself. As they left the field one day, Hernández told his dad, “Papi, I want to play baseball.” Two years after Hernández’s baseball career ended in the sun, it began anew.

When he was 8, Hernández went with his dad to Puerto Rican winter ball workouts. He didn’t want to watch anymore. He wanted in. He’d beg the big leaguers to let him shag fly balls, take grounders or play catch. He’d practice his English with them. He’d steal shortstop whenever it was vacant.


“He was a pain in the you-know-what,” recalls Red Sox manager Alex Cora, who was one of those big leaguers. “He was all over the place.”

When he was 12, Hernández hit a line drive in batting practice that struck his father in the chest. Hernández immediately raced to his phone. “I panicked,” he told “I called my mom and said, ‘I killed my dad.’” Enrique Sr. got up and dusted himself off. He never threw BP without a screen again.

5. Hernández will stop at nothing to keep a joke going. In August 2018, the Dodgers traded for 13-year veteran reliever Ryan Madson to fortify their bullpen for the postseason run. Madson was given the empty locker between Hernández and Farmer. The day Madson was due to arrive in Los Angeles, Hernández scouted Madson’s social media situation (it is almost non-existent).

“Hey,” he told Farmer. “I’m going to pretend like I don’t speak English.”

“You think you can pull that off?” Farmer asked.

“I’ve done it before,” Hernández replied.

6. Four years earlier, after a game with Triple-A Oklahoma City, Hernández met manager Tony DeFrancesco for the first time. DeFrancesco had missed six weeks because of cancer treatment. Hernández had only been on the team for a month. DeFrancesco asked Hernández, “How’s your English?” Hernández chose chaos. He gave DeFrancesco a confused look and mumbled something about English classes. The manager took the bait, hook, line and sinker.

For the next month, DeFrancesco had someone translate for Hernández.

One day, during an especially rough stretch of the season, the manager pulled the position players into his office and lit into them.

“In the middle of him yelling at us and cussing us out, I raised my hand and he goes, ‘What?! What the (expletive) do you want?!'” Hernández told NBC Sports Boston. “And I told him, ‘I just want you to know that I speak perfect English and that I’ve been (expletive) with you this whole time.’ He started laughing like, ‘I knew it! I knew it!’ and he couldn’t be mad anymore.”


7. Now Madson was looped into a recurring bit. When they were sitting side by side at their lockers, Hernández would give a quiet, “Hello,” and Madson would say, “What’s up?” And that was it. Hernández would look around the room before speaking. He never sat at the same table as Madson in the food room. And, once, when a TV station asked for a postgame interview, Hernández brought over an interpreter so he could speak Spanish.

“I was like, oh my gosh, he’s really doing it,” Farmer says.

Almost two months after the trade, Madson won Game 7 of the 2018 NLCS, securing five outs against the Brewers in the high point of his brief Dodgers career. Afterward, as champagne sprayed in the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park, Hernández bear-hugged Madson and starting talking to him in English.

“Madson’s face was in total shock,” Stripling says.

“He freaked out,” Farmer says. “He was like, ‘Are you kidding me?!’”

8. For all of his life, Hernández has had people try to tell him how to balance fun and focus. When Quinton McCracken took over as Astros field director in 2012, he sat down with Hernández — Houston’s sixth-round pick in 2009 — in spring training and stressed that they’d get him to the majors, but first he had to work on developing his game without getting too distracted. “Once he was able to marry those two,” McCracken says, “he started to take off.”

As Hernández, who was primarily a second baseman, adapted to become a super-utility player, he hatched an idea to play all nine positions in a Triple-A game. McCracken and the coaches were receptive. The only problem with the plan, according to the Los Angeles Daily News, was that the day it was supposed to happen, Hernández was called up to the majors instead.

9. Later, Hernández got his chance to pitch. It came in the early hours of July 25, 2018, in Philadelphia, as a six-hour game dragged deep into the night. The Dodgers had a real pitcher warming in the bullpen but sat him down when the offense failed to break the 4-4 tie with two runners in scoring position in the top of the 16th inning. In the Phillies dugout, Trevor Plouffe saw then-manager Gabe Kapler pump his fist when Hernández went to the mound.


“He knew they were pretty much surrendering at that point,” Plouffe says.

Surrendering in style, however. Hernández threw his warm-up pitches, showing off a Hingle McCringleberry-inspired delivery, and then walked two of the first three batters he faced. That brought Plouffe to the plate. “I told (Kapler) I was going to take care of it,” Plouffe says, “more calming myself down than anything.” He blasted a 2-2 pitch for a walk-off, opposite-field homer. It was Hernández’s first homer allowed in his career, and the last one Plouffe hit.

For Hernández, it was a historic night. He and Cy Young are the only players to go 0-for-7 and give up a game-ending homer, per NBC Sports Boston. At 2:40 a.m., before heading to bed, Hernández tweeted, “Welp… I thought it’d help me in arbitration but … It backfired! K bye. See you tomorrow. #L”

Pranks, bananas and a $1 million bet: The Kik Hernndez experience in 16 stories (1) Hernández during his ill-fated pitching appearance. (Hunter Martin / Getty Images)

10. One day during his first season with the Dodgers in 2015, Hernández was at home watching “Hot Tub Time Machine 2” when one of the characters — listed as “Shot Girl” in the IMDB credits — caught his eye. He Googled her. Mariana Vicente, he learned, was a model-turned-actress who had represented Puerto Rico in Miss Universe 2010. She lived in Los Angeles. So did he.

Hernández shot his shot. He messaged her on Instagram.

They married three years later.

11. For Hernández, hamming it up for the cameras is second nature. He can smile and be silly all day. But something about posing for engagement photos had him rattled. He was dreading them. So, when he and Mariana watched the comedy “Masterminds,” which features Zach Galifianakis and Kate McKinnon in a delightfully cringe engagement photo shoot, Hernandez told Mariana, “If you want to do an engagement photo shoot, that’s the only one I’m doing.”

So, they found a photographer and an empty playground.

“I want to say that Mariana tones him down, but she doesn’t,” says Farmer, who is now with the Reds. “They just feed off of each other. It’s awesome. Mariana has that same personality. They’re perfect for each other.”


Farmer and his wife, Courtney, still have that Hernández save-the-date on the refrigerator in their home outside of Atlanta, just to get a good laugh.

12. Around the time he met Mariana in 2015, Hernández was in the middle of banana-mania. Ever since stoking a rally by waving a banana early in the season, Hernández had carried a banana suit everywhere. He was a rookie being wooed by banana sponsors. He wore the banana suit for a lip-synch Minions video with Joc Pederson and Justin Turner. He was the banana man.

It was a very silly time to be Kiké Hernández. And the logical end point of that silliness was when Hernández walked from the home clubhouse at Dodger Stadium to the dugout wearing a “rally banana” hoodie. It was the 14th inning. Hernández was not in proper uniform. And yet he was operating under orders from Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Hernández told Dodgers insider JP Hoornstra later, “Andrew saw me and said, ‘You’ve got to go down there.’ I said, ‘I’ll get fined.’ He said, ‘I’ll pay your fine.’”

“Is that Enrique Hernández?” Vin Scully asked on the air. “Figured.”

It would be easy for that act to wear thin in Los Angeles, on a team loaded with household names and high expectations. Why didn’t it? Not many others could constantly refer to Chase Utley as “dad” and live to tell about it. (And, in fact, remain close with the old man.) Hernández is outrageous, his joy genuine and infectious. He loves Batman — one of his dogs, a mini Australian labradoodle, is named Bruce Wayne — tight baseball pants, and dancing. He’ll twerk in the clubhouse. “During BP, he’ll take a ground ball at shortstop and then salsa dance until his next rep,” Stripling says. “He’ll lock it in and do another perfect rep, then he’ll start salsa dancing again.” Fun and focus. He found the balance. Teammates say the Kiké Hernández experience works because he’s serious about winning, yet he’s always looking for ways to keep things light.

“He brought me some life, man,” Freese says.

“You really never see that: the class clown, but also the player you trust in a big situation,” adds Stripling, who now pitches for the Blue Jays.


13. A few weeks before the Dodgers’ annual dress-up day in 2019, Hernández texted Freese with an idea. They were going to dress up as the drug testers that randomly drop by MLB clubhouses to collect urine samples from players.

“I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” Freese says.

It was no joke. Hernández had a company make a pair of black polo shirts complete with the Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc. (CDT) logo. The rest of the ensemble was black tennis shoes, khaki pants, gray wigs, ID badges and, of course, collection containers. “CDT (Creepy Drug Testers) keeping the game clean, one piss test at a time!” Hernández wrote on Instagram.

“I think the drug testers were there that day,” Freese says, “which made it even better.”

14. This will come as no consolation to the Yankee faithful who watched Hernández field a ball off the Green Monster and help cut down Aaron Judge at home plate in the AL wild-card game, but he was a Yankees fan growing up.

See, Enrique Sr. was a good ballplayer himself — he liked the Mets as a kid because he shared a last name and position with Keith Hernandez — and in high school he met an MLB scout named Jorge Posada Sr. He became like a second father to Enrique Sr., and Posada’s son, Jorge, became his best friend.

Kiké Hernández was born in 1991, the year before Jorge Posada signed with the Yankees. Posada’s father is Kiké’s godfather. Today, Enrique Sr. scouts Puerto Rico for the Pirates, following in the footsteps of Posada’s father.

15. A few months after Hernández’s NLCS heroics in 2017, Walter and the Dodgers announced a $2 million donation to Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico, added to the $225,000 raised by Hernández and Vicente. Though the numbers add up, neither side has publicly admitted their wager. They said they don’t remember the specifics of their conversation. (When asked about it again over the weekend, a Dodgers spokesperson toldThe Athletic Walter had “nothing to add to past accounts of this story.”)


But Enrique Sr. remembers everything about the night of Game 5.

“It was very, very cold in Chicago,” he says.

He wore three T-shirts, a jacket and a coat as he sat behind home plate at Wrigley Field. It was an emotional time for the Hernández family. Enrique Sr. had been battling multiple myeloma, cancer of the bone marrow (He is in remission). His father, Kiké’s grandfather, had died a few weeks earlier. Kiké had flown home for the funeral and left just before Hurricane Maria made landfall. So, here was Enrique Sr. in cold Chicago, his son at bat, and his wife and two daughters back in Toa Baja trying to hold things together.

When his son hit his first home run, Enrique Sr. removed his coat.

After the second, he took off the jacket.

By the third, he had just two T-shirts on. He didn’t feel cold at all, just joy.

“That was the most impressive game I’ve ever seen him play,” the father says.

Pranks, bananas and a $1 million bet: The Kik Hernndez experience in 16 stories (2) Hernández celebrates after hitting one of three home runs. (Jamie Squire / Getty Images)

16. Until Friday night.

Enrique Sr. was at Minute Maid Park in Houston for Game 1 of the ALCS, when his son singled, doubled, homered twice and saved multiple runs with a diving catch with the bases loaded. As he left the ballpark, Enrique Sr. texted, “Unbelievable. That is the best performance I’ve seen from him.”

Hernández is raising the bar by the game. As a free agent last fall, Hernández wanted a chance to play every day for a playoff team. He found it in Boston. Cora said recently it was his goal for fans to recognize Hernández for the player he is, “not the rally banana or making jokes and dancing.” It’s working. Hernández said he “was able to force (himself) under the wing” of veterans like Utley, Turner and Freese in Los Angeles, and he saw that they never seemed to panic. He’s borrowing from them, and now they’re watching him soar.

Utley: “You’re seeing what Kiké Hernández really can do.”


Freese: “He looks like a guy that knows who he is.”

Enrique Sr. says his son is built for big moments. He wasn’t a top-tier prospect in Puerto Rico, but the one day every year when scouts packed into the stands, he was the best player on the field. He was clutch for the Dodgers, and he’s a revelation for the Red Sox. When there’s more on the line, Hernández rises to the moment. He’s always having fun, but the pressure keeps him focused.

(Top photo of Kiké Hernández: Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)


Pranks, bananas and a $1 million bet: The Kik Hernndez experience in 16 stories (2024)
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