I've been hard on the Dodgers for picking up Roberto Hernandez instead of just giving the ball to Hull or Meloan, but from where I sit you can't but feel for the old warhorse. In his time Roberto Hernandez was a solid closer who has accumulated a ton of saves while never being the dominating kind of closer, who gets all the accolades. After being the number one pick of the Angels in 1986, he made his debut with the White Sox in 1991, and by 1993 had become the de facto closer for them. He's been in the postseason four times, but never made it to the World Series, and after 17 years of plying his trade, you would think that is what keeps him going. But you'd be wrong. My seats are right above the Dodger bullpen, and for the last four years I've had the best seat in the house for watching how the bullpen interacts during games.
I've never seen anyone act like Roberto. His first day as a Dodger, he paced the bullpen like a caged lion, waiting for his call, to do his part to keep the opponents at bay. Maybe the inside of the bullpen under the pavilion is filled and he has no choice, but whatever the reason, he sits outside and watches the game through the gate. This is unusual, as the plastic white seats in the bullpen usually go unused until later in the game. Once the rosters are expanded in September, it is different, as the extra pitchers are relegated to the plastic seats. But not in August. Not that he watches the game very much, because he's usually busy just talking to anyone he can grab.
Last night, it was DJ and Proctor who were his foils and as I watched Roberto, my feelings changed from irritation for holding back Meloan, to sympathy, as that old face showed such signs of life as he talked pitching with the kids. Of course some of you think he was just talking about the pretty things in the field level, and that would bring a smile to any man, but you could tell this was pitching because of the body language and arm motions. The thing is, you realize very quickly that when Roberto can't pitch well enough to keep a major league job, he's going to miss it more than most. While the game is going on, he'll head to the bullpen mound and just pretend to pitch. Time after time he throws an air ball much like you and I did as youngsters when we pantomimed being Orel or Fernando, or in my case John Purdin.
Roberto is old now and his face reflects it. This is not some 40 year old who looks good, this is a 43 year old whose face looks like he spent the last 17 years working the fields, not pitching in the major leagues. He's not bored with baseball; he's invigorated by it. And even though his skills are easily replaceable, I'm glad that I got watch him for a few games, because so many pitchers who have come through the bullpen gate are so unmemorable - that if I wasn't such a baseball geek I wouldn't remember a thing about them. He probably won't make it to September now that we've added Proctor, and if he doesn't, I'll feel for him; and hope he catches on one more time, with someone else. If not, I'm sure he'll be a pitching coach somewhere, because guys like him can never leave the game.