Nick Hernandez is a Fort Bend and Houston-area baseball man through and through. He graduated from Dulles High School in Sugar Land, and still calls Missouri City home to this day. His first MLB game was at Houston’s Astrodome in the 1990s watching future Astros’ Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio.
Now, he’s pursuing a Major League Baseball dream less than five miles from where he pitched in high school – for his hometown organization, no less – as his career path comes full circle.
“It’s awesome (being able to play close to home),” he said. “…It’s pretty crazy.”
The 2022 campaign is far from the first time Hernandez has set foot onto the Constellation Field mound. He and Dulles played fellow Fort Bend ISD foe Clements in the first-ever game at the stadium back in 2012; he would later return while pitching at Alvin Community College and the University of Houston.
But this season, there are bigger implications at play as he stands on the precipice of the majors with his hometown team not far from where he grew up. And he does so with mother Nicole and other loved ones in the stands almost every night, cheering him on.
“It means a lot playing here,” he said. “It means a lot with all the support I have, knowing everybody wants me to make it with the Astros, that I want to make it with them, and how cool that would be.”
Hernandez caught the baseball bug in elementary school, with his father Lawrence aiding in the journey by teaching his son to hit, and later pitch. His father had a property in Stafford, Hernandez said, with a huge backyard where they installed a batting cage and would work on his skills every day after school. To this day, Hernandez will still head to the property at times if he needs a place to hone his craft.
It’s a symbol, he said, of his dad’s dedication to helping him on his baseball journey throughout the years. He said Lawrence – who works repairing turbine machinery overseas – was a hitting instructor when Hernandez was growing up, and still does so on the side today. And as soon as his son discovered pitching, he said Lawrence immediately started learning about it and provided resources for Nick such as that property.
“My dad is definitely my biggest motivator. Just watching him work hard all his life, I feel like I inherited that work ethic,” Hernandez said. “He’s had a huge influence on my career, just having the passion to get better, the passion for pitching. It’s that passion that drives me every day to try and be the best.”
Hernandez’s journey has seen him stay close to home almost the entire way. He helped lead Dulles to district title in 2012 as a junior, and the state tournament as a senior in 2013. Following that junior season, he said he got a question and answer form from the San Francisco Giants during summer ball – which is when the dream started to become even more real.
“I really took it seriously with working hard and developing when I started getting those emails and things from professional teams,” he said. “That’s really what motivated me to keep getting better.”
Hernandez initially went the junior college route after graduating from Dulles, heading to Alvin Community College about 30 miles away, where he would post a 2.43 ERA over 118.1 innings in two seasons and earn All-Region honors in 2015. From there, he transferred to the University of Houston, spending the 2016 season as the team’s closer and sporting a 1.40 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 51.1 innings.
That was apparently enough for the Astros, who made Hernandez an 8th-round pick in the 2016 MLB draft out of UH – catching him a little off guard.
“I was surprised, because I didn’t really think they were paying that much attention to me,” he said. “When I got the call, I was like ‘No way this is happening.’ I thought I would for sure go to another team. And at that point it was a no-brainer – I was ready to sign with them.”
Since signing, Hernandez has done nothing but pitch to success. He has a 3.56 ERA with Sugar Land this season, with 39 strikeouts in 30.1 innings – a rate of 11.6 K/9. The 27-year-old right hander has a career 2.74 ERA in 206.2 innings over the course of five minor league seasons in the Astros’ organization.
“Even at the Triple-A level, there’s always something to work on,” he said. “I’ve learned so much (in the organization) throughout the years, and their resources take the guessing out of the game. It’s definitely made me better.”
And while the call-up has not yet come for Hernandez, he’s staying the course as he awaits the chance to make his dream a reality not far from his hometown.
“It would be a dream come true,” he said.