AIKEN — Roberto Hernandez played only one year at USC Aiken, but he’s left a lasting legacy ever since.
Hernandez donated $1 million to the school for a state-of-the-art baseball stadium, which opened in 2003 and is named after him. On Tuesday, he talked about another contribution to the school – his son, Roberto Jr., who will play baseball for the Pacers this fall.
“I told him there’s going to be a lot of people watching you just because of your last name,” said the elder Hernandez, who starred for USC Aiken in 1986. “Just be yourself. He understands that.”
Roberto Jr., also known as Robert, attended a Monday gathering announcing his arrival at the school to play at Roberto Hernandez Stadium. But according to Pacers baseball coach Kenny Thomas, he was not allowed to talk to the media – an NCAA rule – until he officially becomes a student when classes start Thursday.
Thomas said he remembers Roberto Jr. as a youth when his father would visit the school. Last year, the possibility of him playing for one of the premier programs in Division II became a reality.
“A year or so ago, it was brought up it’d be good if he could play in the stadium named after his daddy,” Thomas said. “I went down last summer and watched him play, and it just all worked out.”
Roberto Jr., who grew up in Gulfport, Fla., began playing baseball at age 10. Two years later, he had his first knee surgery. Before his sophomore year of high school, Hernandez had another knee surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
“He’s strong with his leg. So there’s no worries,” said the elder Hernandez, who recorded 326 saves in 17 seasons with eight major league teams. “But he’s missed parts of a couple of years in high school. He’s not asking for any handouts. His mind-set is if he’s going to be redshirted, he’s going to be redshirted. He wants to earn everything he gets.”
The school is taking Hernandez’s No. 35 out of retirement for the younger Hernandez to wear. A right-hander, Roberto Jr. throws a fastball, changeup and is working on a split-finger fastball, an out pitch his dad became synonymous with.
“He’s got great genes,” Thomas said. “We don’t ever want to start comparing him to his daddy, because that’d be a very unfair thing to do. But the big thing about him is his better days are ahead of him.”