Remembering 2011: Herrera Re-Discovers His Sweet Swing With Revs
In case you missed an issue of the “York Revolutionary Times” this past season, we’ll be re-running columns by staff writer Ron Gardner here on the blog on Tuesdays. In our fourth installment, Ron profiles veteran designated hitter Jose Herrera. A fixture in the league putting up big numbers season after season, Herrera struggled with a new opportunity in Southern Maryland to begin 2011, before making a financial sacrifce – but finding his swing again – in a return to York.
Jose Herrera was suddenly in unfamiliar territory – without a job in baseball.
Traded byYork in the off-season to Southern Maryland after hitting .337 (third-best in the Atlantic League) in 2010 to help lead the Revs to their first-ever league championship, the 38-year-old’s batting average plummeted to a paltry .239 in his first 29 games with his new team. Unwilling to give Herrera any more time to break out of his funk at the plate, the Blue Crabs unceremoniously released Herrera on June 8.
Two days later and with nowhere else to go, Herrera was still hanging around town when the Revolution came in to play Southern Maryland in a three-game series. With first baseman Mark Ori away attending a wedding and just one extra player available on the bench,York manager Andy Etchebarren needed to add another hitter to the roster, and since he was already in the neighborhood, the Revs reached out and re-signed Herrera for what looked to be a very short-term gig.
“My plan was to keep him a week or 10 days and give him an opportunity,” Etchebarren said. “When I saw him swing with Southern Maryland, I thought he was done. He was a completely different hitter than I remember. I didn’t know if he could still hit and he turned it around.”
After getting just one hit in 13 at-bats in his first three games with York against Southern Maryland, Herrera has been nothing short of sizzling ever since. In his first 21 games back in a Revs’ uniform, Herrera’s prolific production includes a 17-game hitting streak, 10 multi-hit games, a .307 batting average along with 3 home runs and 18 RBI.
With the fan-favorite Herrera resuming his highly-productive work at the plate now that he’s back with York, you’re not alone in wondering why the Revolution would ever have traded Herrera in the first place (for the rights to first baseman Matt Craig, who hit .323 with home runs HR and 62 RBI with the Blue Crabs in 2010 and has since stepped away from the game to return to college).
“My choice – I traded him there,” Etchebarren said. “I didn’t trade him because I didn’t want him. He was hurt a lot last year and couldn’t run, (he) clogs up the bases and he makes the maximum (salary) in this league and I couldn’t afford to pay him that money. I didn’t want him to take a (pay) cut, and I talked to Ozzie (Southern Maryland manager Patrick Osborn) and Ozzie said he would pay him the maximum. I wanted to help Jose, so I sent him over there.”
A lifetime .284 hitter in 17 minor league seasons that also played in 141 Major League games with the Oakland A’s in 1995-96, Herrera said he tried “everything” hoping to get back into a hitting groove with the Blue Crabs.
“We started to struggle too much,” said Herrera, who was born and still lives in the Dominican Republicin the off-season. “We were working a lot – trying to do something, change something in the mechanics, (or) to see the ball (better) – a lot of little things to try to get back on track. My good timing at home plate hadn’t come yet.”
“Whatever was happening over there (with Southern Maryland), I’ve tried to forget about it. For me, I’m glad to come back to York and be happy. I’m feeling a lot better about everything’s that’s happening now.”
That includes reverting to being the consummate professional hitter he was for the Revs a year ago, which Herrera demonstrates whenever he’s drilling crisp line drives to left field when pitchers work the outside part of the plate against him.
“He wasn’t doing that in Southern Maryland– he was pulling everything,” Etchebarren said. “I don’t know why. He was striking out a lot on off-speed pitches. He just got here and he’s back to his old self. I’m happy for him.”
In order to come back to the Revolution, Etchebarren said that Herrera had to accept a “significant” cut in pay, but earning less money to return to familiar surroundings and teammates seems to have been a price worth paying as the move has rejuvenated Herrera as a hitter.
“When you’re feeling comfortable in some place – your mind, your body, and the people – that’s good for the player,” Herrera said. “I’m thankful for the opportunity and every day, try to be better.”
That comfort level is especially rooted in being around teammates who also traveled from Latin American countries to play in the United States.
“The clubhouse is very important and I don’t know how many Latinos there were in Southern Maryland- I could count them, but not too many,” Etchebarren said. “And we don’t have a whole lot, but he’s very comfortable with the ones we have. He’s been around them before and he’s been around (coach Enohel) Polanco, and I think that’s what makes him comfortable too.”
Even simple day-to-day things that most people take for granted can make a difference for players far away from home and living in a much different culture.
“Over here (inYork) for me, or for a Latino (player), everything is a little bit closer,” Herrera said. “If you really need something, we can walk and get it. The town is a little bit more comfortable for us. Sometimes we don’t have a car over here and you can’t move around – it’s a little bit more comfortable for Latino players.”
Revs’ outfielder Scott Grimes, Herrera’s teammate on last year’s championship team, reinforces the importance for a player fitting in and being comfortable in order to perform at their best.
“He’s back with the guys that he was with last year,” Grimes said. “We’re a bunch of guys that he was around, he was comfortable with, he was happy with, he was having a good time with – he’s able to relax and just have fun. That’s when most guys play their best is when they’re relaxed and having fun. That’s what he’s doing now and it’s fun to watch.”
“If you look at a situation where you’re not comfortable, it can really mess with you a little bit as a player, especially mentally. If you’re not mentally with it, you’re going to be off. Not being in a comfortable situation with your team is not going to help that.”
Now that Herrera is back with the Revolution, Grimes said he’s thrilled that York was able to add a proven hitter and great teammate to the roster.
“He’s a great guy in the clubhouse,” Grimes said. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever been around just as far as his personality goes, he’s joking around – he’s having fun with everybody.”
“He goes about his business and he’s as professional as anything. It adds way more than just his bat to the lineup and that’s also something you need to have on a team is a bunch of good guys and he’s one great guy. He’s one of my favorite players I’ve ever played with and I was truly happy to see him on our side and not the other side.”