Before Keith Hernandez plied his trade on television, becoming a maven of unintentional (and sometimes very intentional) comedy and general smarminess, he was one of Baseball's greatest on-field minds. To watch him at the plate was to appreciate his strategy: Lie in the weeds, then attack. To see him field was like watching a Gene Kelly dance routine: Graceful and flawless. Both of these traits about Hernandez are made evident in the first of two books he wrote about Baseball, "If at First..."
With Pitchers and Catchers set to report to Port St. Lucie tomorrow (Johan Santana among them), it is almost time for me to pull out my dog-eared, raggedy paperback copy of "If at First..." for my annual Spring Training reading. I have read this book every march for the past 5 seasons as a way of getting me primed and ready for the Baseball season from a thinking man's standpoint.
The book, a journal-style chronicle of the Mets 1985 campaign (the paperback has a final chapter regarding 1986), gives you a great deal of insight into how Keith dealt with a lot of the outside circumstances in his life. 1985 was not a particularly good year for him off the field, with a messy divorce and the Pittsburgh Drug Trials taking place at various points during the season. Hernandez handles it all with class, never allowing it to greatly affect his performance on the field. "On the ballfield, I'm free," he says before Opening Day. Minor details that might have been missed to the general public are discussed. Hernandez discusses his relationship with the other players on the team. Tough on young Darryl Strawberry, who will eventually battle the same problems Hernandez had earlier in his career. Chummy with Rusty Staub, the newly-acquired Gary Carter, Ron Darling and Jesse Orosco. Moments are mixed in with anecdotes from his prior days coming up through the Cardinals system. Of course, his relationship with his father, who was tough on him to the point where they wouldn't speak for several weeks on end. Although I am too young to remember the 1985 season with any great detail, having read this book makes me feel like I was there for every game.
It's just about time for me to pull it off the bookshelf once again. It's a nice reminder of what to look forward to.