Father's Day particularly special for Hernandez

Father's Day particularly special for Hernandez

CINCINNATI -- This is the best Father's Day ever for Dodgers utility man Enrique "Kiké" Hernandez III, because Enrique Hernandez II is still alive to celebrate it.

In December 2015, Kiké's father was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer related to leukemia. Last November, it was determined the cancer is in remission.

The devastating emotion and physical strain patients and families endure when cancer strikes, Kiké said, only hits home when it hits your home. Being a Major Leaguer based in Los Angeles, he couldn't take his father to the doctor or accompany his mother to Tampa, Fla., for her husband's bone marrow surgery.

His parents came to Los Angeles for Kiké's birthday last August, and for the first time, he saw the toll taken on his father by radiation and chemotherapy.

"Seeing my dad after he lost all that weight and lost his hair, pictures don't do justice to what a cancer patient goes through," he said. "To see him in person, to see how much his body changed when they came for my birthday, it was shocking, eye-opening."

While his father battled cancer, the distracted son was in a professional struggle. When Kiké wasn't hurt (he missed July with rib cage inflammation), he wasn't producing at the plate. A .307 hitter in 2015, he plunged to .190 last year. He even struggled against left-handed pitching for the first time in his career.

"I felt I had the pressure to perform because I needed my Dad to stay positive to kick cancer's butt," he said. "If I don't perform, my dad's going to get frustrated and my dad's going to get sad, it's going to eat him up. By putting that much pressure on myself, I started failing. Every time I had an 0-for-4, I thought I was going to get sent down, I felt I was letting my dad down. So many things started snowballing.

"I lost a lot of sleep last year, a lot of nights just because not knowing what's going on with my Dad, my confidence was nowhere to be found. Thinking, 'Can I actually have a career as a baseball player and play a full career?' All of it went through my mind. At the same time, 'Am I going to have a Dad? Will he see my kids grow up?'"

With news of remission, "It was like, 'OK, we can breathe again,'" he said. "'Back to normal, go on with life now. Everything's good now.'"

Dad is back to work in Puerto Rico as a salesman. His passion, though, was always baseball. He coached Kiké until his son's senior year in high school. That's when Dad's good friend and Kiké's godfather, retired Yankees legend Jorge Posada, mentored him to be a scout. Dad has worked part-time for the Pirates the last five years.

"All of my baseball," said Kiké, "I get from him. When I was 4, he took me to a baseball camp and I said I didn't want to go back because it was too hot. But he would play in a semi-pro league and I would go, and soon I wanted to play, too. When I was 6, he saw my potential. Since then, my life has been nothing but baseball, and he's been right by my side. During the World Baseball Classic, he missed almost a month of work to be with me."

Not coincidentally, with Dad healthy, so is Kiké's baseball game. He's back to terrorizing left-handed pitching, never more apparent than the home run he hit against Indians star reliever Andrew Miller on Thursday. He's slugging against right-handers as well. The body clearly is linked to the mind.

"I learned so much last year," he said. "It opened a side of me I didn't know was there. Now I know what every family goes through with something like this. I got the chance to go to a kids hospital, a cancer center. I used to think that was a job for a veteran, more well-known guys. Just going one time and seeing how just by showing up I can change the day for a kid and everything we take for granted.

"This year taught me by failing -- this year with a little more success and I know what it feels like to fail -- I can be positive and shorten the slumps and learned how to be a better teammate. Last year, I needed someone to come pat on the back, 'Everything be OK.' Me going through those struggles taught me I know what it feels like and you kind of know what that person needs, any way you can help. As much as last year sucked, I'm extremely appreciative of going through a season like that in my personal life. It made me mature."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for MLB.com since 2001. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.