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Kiké Hernandez remembers MLB games in Puerto Rico: ‘I was in absolute awe of it all’

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Arizona Diamondbacks  v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

SAN DIEGO — The Indians and Twins are in Puerto Rico to play two regular season games at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan on Tuesday and Wednesday, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Dodgers’ Kiké Hernandez, who was born in San Juan.

“I’m not going to lie, I’m a little bit jealous,” he said.

Hernandez is one of 19 major leaguers born in Puerto Rico who were on opening day rosters. Among that group are Francisco Lindor and Roberto Perez of the Indians, and Eddie Rosario and Jose Berrios of the Twins, who are playing in their home for a couple of days.

This is the fifth time MLB has played regular season games in Puerto Rico, and the first time since the Marlins and Mets in 2010. The Rangers and Blue Jays opened the 2001 season in San Juan, when Hernandez was nine years old.

“From what I remember as a kid, I was in absolute awe of it all,” Hernandez said. “That was my first big league game ever. I never expected big league baseball to be played there.”

The Expos in 2003 and 2004, their final seasons in Montreal, played 22 and 21 home games, respectively at Hiram Bithorn Stadium.

“With the Expos everybody was really excited about Javier Vazquez and Jose Vidro. When the Rangers came Pudge [Rodriguez] and Juan Gonzalez were there,” Hernandez said. “With the Mets there were a lot, including Alex Cora and Robbie Alomar.”

The new collective bargaining agreement calls for major league games to also be played in Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic in 2019 during spring training and again in one of those two spots during the 2020 regular season. There are also annual games planned for Mexico every season through 2021, including the Dodgers and Padres in Monterrey from May 4-6 this season.

“People love it. They show up, embrace it. It’s a different atmosphere for American players. They are fun,” Hernandez said. “It’s good for the sport to go around and give people in other places the chance to watch big league baseball.”

The Dodgers’ Mexico trip is coming up pretty quickly, now just over two weeks away. Will playing in an unfamiliar ballpark be a challenge for either team?

“It’s the same as if we’re playing interleague and haven’t been to a new stadium,” Hernandez said. “The biggest thing there is your first at-bat, the visual of it all. It’s going to be a blast.”