After cancer battle, Kiké Hernandez and dad see their dreams come true

CHICAGO — Enrique Hernandez Sr. patiently leaned against a wall in a restaurant tucked underneath Wrigley Field’s right field grandstand late Thursday night. Family members of the Los Angeles Dodgers were scattered throughout the room, celebrating the team’s newfound berth in the World Series.

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One by one, happy Dodgers players filtered into the room and hugged their family members.

Kiké Hernadez’s dad, though, had to wait. His son was still standing in his socks outside the visitor’s dugout, waiting for a live interview on ESPN to start. After that would come round after round of interviews, sneak champagne attacks in the clubhouse and whatever else goes with hitting three home runs in an 11-1 Game 5 clincher over the Cubs.

His teammates kept his dad busy in the meanwhile. Joc Pederson came over for a fist pound. Kenley Jensen followed. Chris Taylor and Justin Turner would drop by later to talk.

He got media requests himself.

“Unbelievable,” Enrique said, looking happy and healthy after receiving a bone marrow transplant while fighting cancer in 2016. Now in remission, Enrique looked forward to what was ahead.

While some might say hitting three home runs to help your team reach its first World Series since 1988 is the world’s best feeling, parents know being the father of that guy actually surpasses it.

That belief was confirmed by Enrique.

“Before the game, he told me ‘Papa, I feel very well today,” Enrique said. “I feel good about my swing. I’m going to hit well.”   

Kiké also relayed the same belief in a text message back to his mother in Puerto Rico and told Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw that he “had his back.”

But three home runs in one postseason game? A feat achieved by only nine other players including Hall of Famers like Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols and George Brett?

Well, there’s no way any member of the Hernandez family or Kershaw himself could’ve seen that coming after Kiké got just five at-bats in this series coming into Game 5.

But he watched from his seat behind home plate as his son got the Dodgers on the board in the second inning with a home run off Cubs starter Jose Quintana.

“Cool,” Enrique thought.

An inning later, Kiké came to the plate to face Hector Rondon with the bases loaded.

“That one was really exciting,” he said. “Because it was a grand slam.”

Then, in the ninth inning, with many eyes on the impending Dodgers party and few on potential history, Kiké lifted his third home run of the night, a two-run shot that made the score 11-1.

“I never saw that one coming,” Enrique admitted.

The night was a special one for Enrique on a number of levels.

He grew up in Puerto Rico with dreams of playing in the big leagues. He played well in high school and was told by Jorge Posada Sr., a scout with the Toronto Blue Jays that he wanted to select him at some point.

Then tragedy struck. As a senior in high school, Enrique was involved in a car accident. The driver in the other car died. The accident affected Enrique deeply — “my mind was gone” — and he said he couldn’t make the move to the United States, where a baseball scholarship was waiting.

Enrique stopped playing and later became the Pirates’ scout for Puerto Rico. Eventually, Kiké was born. Enrique gave Jorge Posada Sr. the honor of being Kiké’s godfather and saw another chance to make the majors.

At first the son didn’t know how to feel about his father’s constant instruction. But he soon grew to love the sessions with his father and major league ballplayers he came in contact with. Though it looked like size might limit his chances, he grew four inches to 5-foot-11 during his senior year and was selected by the Houston Astros in the sixth round of the 2009 MLB draft at age 18.

Enrique doesn’t shy away from the suggestion that he’s living his dreams through his son.

“Because all I wanted to do growing up was be a baseball player,” he said.

Kiké made his big league debut for the Astros in 2014 and then was traded twice — to the Marlins, then the Dodgers — before the end of the year. He’s become a fan favorite with the Dodgers since, playing every position but pitcher and catcher.

The bond between Enrique and Kiké remains strong. When dad was diagnosed with a blood cancer named multiple myeloma in December 2015, Kiké shaved his head in solidarity after seeing a picture sent by his mother. His biggest day in the bigs before Thursday was arguably Father’s Day 2016, when he tied a game against the Brewers with a pinch-hit home run.

Enrique, who works as a water hose salesman, plans to be with Kiké through the end of the World Series, but will follow the games alone. His wife and two daughters returned to Puerto Rico for the start of school in Toa Baja. Though the Hernandez family did not suffer the loss of their home during Hurricane Maria, the town is still struggling.  The school that Kiké’s younger sister attends is open but does not have power. The town’s main bridge was also wiped out, Enrique said.

Kiké started a YouCaring fundraising website in the aftermath of the hurricane and set a goal of $100,000. In the wake of his Game 5 heroics, happy Dodgers fans pushed him past the goal.

As the party raged on after Game 5, Kiké struggled to fight through all the obligations that come with hitting three home runs in a postseason game. All he wanted to do was meet up with the man who passed him his love of the game, who, as he said, “kicked cancer’s ass,” who watched his son etch his name into Major League Baseball history.

“The No. 1 thing for me, I just wanted the game to be over so I could give my dad a big old hug,” Hernandez told reporters who were keeping him from just that. “I didn’t care about anything else.”

Kiké Hernandez celebrates a home run. (Getty Images)