Kansas City, Mo. — An uneasiness settled over the Chicago White Sox organization 15 years ago. The prospect had undergone a surgery that made him a guinea pig among pitchers. He had a vein removed from his leg and inserted in his right forearm, where he had suffered a blood clot.
The unspoken fear was his career could be over before he ever threw a major league pitch. Well, that blood clot didn't end the pitching career of Roberto Hernandez. At this point, you have to wonder what will.
"Right now the only thing that's keeping me in the game is my head and my arm," Hernandez said Tuesday from the seat in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium. "The rest of my body's kind of winding down. I've still got maybe one or two good years left."
Hernandez, 41, is with the Pittsburgh Pirates, his fifth team in five years. He pitched for the Royals in 2001 and 2002, then spent a year each with the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. If he's pitching two years from now, that could make it seven teams in seven years and 10 for his career.
"Probably," Hernandez said. "There's a good chance. We'll take it a year at a time."
Before coming to the Royals, Hernandez pitched for the White Sox, San Francisco Giants and his hometown favorite New York Mets. He has a cap and jersey from each team on display at home.
"I keep bouncing around as long as somebody keeps giving me a job," he said.
His favorite stop so far? Chicago. He mentioned Kansas City as one of his favorites, though he didn't pitch as well for the Royals as for others.
"The fans here want a winner," he said. "They want to back a winner so much it kills them. Great town to play, great town to raise kids, tremendous ballpark. ... I can just imagine when they were winning how hopping this place was."
You have to wonder if it will ever get back to that.
"I hope so," he said. "It's a situation where you look at other organizations that have the same resources as these guys, like the Twins, how they do it through development. ... There is a formula, but you have to stick with it. You can't switch year to year."
Listen to some of the names he tosses around from his debut, Sept. 2, 1991, and you appreciate how long he's been at it.
"We're playing the Royals, but it was also Bo Jackson's return back from hip surgery that night," he said. "When I get to the stadium, I walk into the clubhouse and there are tons of reporters. I remember the late Dick Schaap was interviewing Bo Jackson prior to the game. It was like an All-Star (Game) media. I'm just soaking it in. They're more focused on him. I'm relaxed. I get on the mound and the first batter I face is Kirk Gibson."
He struck him out. Then Bill Pecota walked. Then George Brett bounced into a double play.
"I wind up having a no-hitter through six," Hernandez said. "Carlton Fisk was catching me. In the bottom of the sixth, he tries to bunt a ball. He bunts it, but the angle of the bat was a bad angle, so the bat hits the ball and then the ball hits his eye and shuts it. He had to be taken out of the game. (Ron) Karkovice comes in. The very first pitch I throw in the next inning with Karkovice, there goes the no-hitter."