In less than a month, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez, a living legend of Cuban baseball, will return to Cuba for the first time since he left the country to join the MLB.
Hernandez, who went from playing for Havana’s Industriales to play for the NY Yankees, the White Sox, and then the Mets, is also one of the players that Cubans miss the most.
The news has been circling around the internet like dynamite. Hernandez is supposed to travel in the company of his brother, Livan Hernandez, and Rey Ordonez, the short stop king.
The three former MLB players are travelling to Cuba to take part in a golf charitable event in Varadero, starting on May 6. The funds raised will be donated to The Golden Age Center for Disable and Mentally Ill People in Havana.
“Cuba has always been and will be dear to my heart,” said Orlando Ordonez, who hasn’t visited Cuba since he left the country 19 years ago. “I’ve never forgotten my people, because I know very well where I’m coming from. I can’t wait to see my people again, meet them in the streets, the beach, a park, or just walking down the Malecon.”
OnCuba talked to several of the players who shared the dugout with El Duque. Javier Mendez, the current manager of Hernandez’s old team, Industriales, :
“If there’s a model of Industriales player, that is El Duque,” said Javier Mendez, the current manager of Hernandez’s old team, Industriales. “He never forgot the color blue or his country. He triumphed in Cuba, and in the MLB. He’s one of the best pitchers in the history of Cuban baseball. It’s a shame that the National Series is already over, otherwise I’m sure the audience at the Latinoamericano would have welcomed him with a standing ovation.”
Hernandez’s results in the Cuban National series were impressive. In 10 seasons, he won 126 games and only lost 47. He finished with a 3.05 average of earned runs, and batters achieved a weak average of 238 against him.
In the MLB, he played 9 seasons for the NY Yankees, the White Sox and the Mets. He won 90 games and lost 65, for a 4.13 ERA.
When asked about Hernandez’s trip to Cuba, German Mesa, another of his Industriales teammates, told OnCuba: “He’s big among the big ones. Of course it’s a good thing that he is coming to visit his country.”
Hernandez’s career in baseball came to a critical point in 1996, when Cuban sports officials decided to exclude him from games arguing that he had plans to leave the country illegally. There’s no doubt that the decision was made because a year earlier his brother Livan Hernandez did not return to Cuba after a trip to Mexico.
Orlando and Livan ended up succeeding at the MLB. They both won the World Series ring in their debut seasons (Livan was the MVP in 1997). El Duque would win three of those rings.
In a 2003 documentary film, director Ian Padron included statements by Hernandez as well as interviews with other Cuban baseball players who left the country to join the MLB in the United States.
The film would not be not officially screened in Cuba until 2008, but it circulated in pirate copies around the country.
In the film, in reply to a question of a baseball fan from Cuba, Hernandez said: “After Armandito El Tintorero, I’m Industriales’ biggest fan. I’m far away, but I’m close.”
When Padron heard that El Duque would be returning to Cuba, he told OnCuba: “This visit will be the biggest pitch in El Duque’s career: a 90 mile fastball to the home plate of the Cuban nation. Even if the umpire calls “ball,” we’ll all know it is a beautiful strike.”