Steve Hernandez

Steve Hernandez, who coached the Fontana High School baseball team for several years, is now enjoying his role as a coach for the Inland Empire 66ers.  (Contributed photo by Obrey Brown)

SAN BERNARDINO -- Steve Hernandez, 66, sat in the third base dugout at San Manuel Stadium, home of the Inland Empire 66ers.

The onetime Fontana and Redlands East Valley baseball coach was exactly where he wanted to be.

He lives in Highland.

Coaches in the pros, a lifelong goal.

Rookie ball. Class A lifestyle. An elite coach.

One day later, it would be opening day for the 66ers, the Class A farm club for the Los Angeles Angels, the team from Anaheim.

So much has changed since those days when Hernandez first stood in the dugout at Fohi, then switched over to REV right around 2000. Nine years later, he was done with school ball, retired as a teacher.

“I never played in the minor leagues. I never played in the major leagues," he said.

Abe Flores, who was the Angels’ director of its elite program, had a connection with Hernandez who, by the way, loves baseball.

“I wanted to experience the minor leagues,” said Hernandez. “I was going to volunteer to coach in Rookie Ball down in Arizona, spend a season down there. That way I could see for myself how to answer the parental questions about their kids getting into pro ball.”

Since 1998, Hernandez worked for the Angels as a coordinator for their Elite program, which is another way of saying high school all-stars. Boy, how some ballplayers flocked to REV just for that exposure.

There might’ve been one thing missing, though, from his high school coaching days. He couldn’t quite advise parents on their kids’ entry into pro ball.

Where will they stay?

What’s the routine?

“My son’s 17 … should we let him bring his car?”

Meals? Schedule?

After that summer, Hernandez was able to answer those questions.

Said Hernandez: “They recommend that they don’t bring their cars.”

He stepped away from REV after 2007, transferred over to Citrus Valley High School, where he quietly completed his career in education. He spent that summer in Arizona.

“Abe called and asked, ‘are you going back?’ ”

Hernandez told him, “I wasn’t planning on it.”

After all, he’d been a volunteer for that summer. Unpaid. One summer later, he was a paid coach. The last few seasons, he’s been the dean in the 66ers’ dugout.

He’s old school, folks, which means all this analytic talk -- exit velocity, launch angles, the blast motion stuff on which hitters are judged -- is new. That old-school gut feeling just doesn’t cut it any more in new-world analysis.

“Used to be you’d send in a report on a guy and tell them a player went 3-for-4 with a couple of doubles and a single.”

The new report is about blast motion. Exit velocity. Launch angles. In other words, how hard did the guy hit it? Going 4-for-4 with four dunkers over second base won’t get a player to MLB play any more. If the exit velocity’s around 90, that won’t quite cut it, either.

After all the new analytics is figured, “the last part of that report now,” said Hernandez, “is that the guy went 3-for-4.”

So, Steve, the question is, “do you buy into this analytics?”

“I do,” he said, “in order to keep my job.”

Chat turned to this area’s top high school prospects -- REV catcher Kaden Hopson, Yucaipa catcher Michael Carpentier and his teammate, pitcher Tyson Heaton, along with Riverside Woodcrest Christian pitcher Wesley Scott.

Hopson, incidentally, is Hernandez’s grandson. College-bound, Arizona.

Scott, he was told, has an offer from Vanderbilt.

“Shoot,” said Hernandez, “if he gets an education at Vanderbilt, he doesn’t need pro ball.”

Heaton, he said, “is a strong Mormon (Latter-day Saints). He might go on a mission.”

Growing serious about college, Hernandez referred to a pro contract’s “education clause.”

That’s where a player’s team will pay for college once pro ball comes to a conclusion.

“Eighty-four percent of the players never use that clause,” said Hernandez.

The advice from the wise old pro, a University of Redlands graduate from the 1970s, is to play three years of college ball, then turn pro.

“Parents ask why,” he said.

“Hey, after a few years in the minors, they’ve got cars, bills … maybe they got married with a kid. They’ve got to make money. They can’t take the time for college.”

But if they have three years of college under their belts, reasoning is good they’ll finish that final year somewhere down the line.

Hernandez says the last two World Series-winning managers -- Houston’s A.J. Hinch and Boston’s Alex Cora -- were allowed to throw some gut feeling in with the new-age analytics.

“The end result,” he said, “is who won the World Series.”

At his age, watching all those young guys play while the pep in his step has slowed just a touch, he’s not planning on ending his baseball days. Yes, he’ll wear the batting helmet while coaching first base. But, he says, “I’ll be farther down the line.”

That exit velocity from those bats, though, can find anyone -- helmet or not. Hernandez isn’t walking away from the game.

“I’ll do it,” said Hernandez, “until I can’t do it.”

That’s solid baseball talk.

(Obrey Brown is the sports editor of the Highland Community News.)

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