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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.”

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3 responses

  1. Darrell Henry

    I’ve never seen a player in the Atlantic League more respected and looked up to by his teammates simply for the way he went about his business, a real leader by example. The guys absolutely loved watching him hit, and his approach, and the way he’d spoil pitch after pitch with two strikes by fouling them off until he got something he liked. We did a few “roasts” of guys on their birthdays this season on our pregame show on radio where teammates would unmercifully make fun of the person whose birthday it was, but when Herrera’s birthday came around, I asked a couple of guys if they wanted to do it knowing full well what the answer would probably be… they all said he’s the only guy on the team they couldn’t roast. Too much respect for him to do that. Pretty telling about how revered he was in the clubhouse, because with this year’s team, nobody was off-limits.

    In the Atlantic League, the teams that win are often the ones who make the best moves in-season and the best adjustments to ever-changing rosters, and Herrera’s reacquisition proved to be one of the all-time great in-season signings in Revs history. The Blue Crabs thought he was done and let him go, but all he needed was a change of scenery, to get back to his comfort zone with his teammates in York. And it was storybook how it happened… Southern Maryland released him, Revs were going to Southern Maryland that weekend and were going to be a player short since Mark Ori was leaving for a few days to attend his brother’s wedding in New Mexico, Revs signed Herrera to basically what amounted to a tryout contract if you will, thought it might only be a three-day thing but Etch said at the time he would make his decision based on what his eyes told him, Herrera swung the bat well and the rest was history. Stayed with the team for the remainder of 2011 and the Revs wouldn’t have won without him. He regained his run-producing form for most of the season, and despite a prolonged slump late in the year and through the first portion of the postseason, finished the playoffs with hits in 6 of his last 7 at-bats, including some of the biggest in club history. His slump was so bad that Etch sat him in Game 5 in Lancaster against a lefty, again in Game 2 at Long Island, but with a stroke of genius put him back in for the final two at home against the Ducks and he came through bigtime in the clutch. Specifically in the clincher with his bunt single that set up the tying run, and then driving in an insurance run in the decisive four-run eighth inning on a single to right.

    Herrera’s individual story is one of the great chapters in the overall story of the 2011 season.

    December 14, 2011 at 12:22 pm

  2. Chuck

    Grimes lied when he said that Cafe is one of the best guys in that clubhouse. He is the best guy in there by far. Darrel you remember when Grimes and I asked Kenny, Etch, Mase and the players that were around; who is the best person on the team? Everyone answered Cafe. Its not even close. He might actually be the best person I have ever been around. He has left me and the rest of his teammates with so many stories from just watching him play and being around him that we could write a book. He played with a whole in his leg. He uses broken bats all the time and hammers. He has the best four-seam rotation ever in the history of baseball. He actually beat a horse in a race. I know you all did that bit with the old man as the most interesting manager in the world. The real most interesting man in the world is Jose Herrera.

    I’m now going to add another chapter to that book that no one knows about. This Thanksgiving break we took our college team to the Dominican Republic to play against the Mets Academy and do community service with a charity named Esperanza. We would play in the morning and build house during the afternoon. I called Cafe a week prior to us getting there and told him that I would be in town. He said he has got to see me. We were supposed to meet at a winter ball game in Santo Domingo. However, my head coach changed plans and we instead went to San Pedro to watch the game and I couldn’t meet up with Cafe. But, I did get to see Sal Paniagua and Andrew Dobies who were playing. So I called Cafe and told him what happened and he said he would drive out to Boca Chica (about an hour oh yea and gas is like $7/gallon over there) which is where the Mets complex is, the next morning. He came and watched my team play in what was pretty much like a minor league spring training game (can’t get much more boring). I introduced him to my head coach and players. He introduced me to his son Jose (of course). He then told me to come to his car he had something for me. I walked and he handed my three bags full of stuff he had bought for me. A hat, shirt, towel, key chains, of course a Coffee Cup, and a pair of shoes. The shoes really got me…the shoes he gave me were his. He remembered that Grimes and I would always tell him how sick they were and he wanted to give them to me. I tried over and over again to not accept but he wasn’t hearing it. Try topping that. Cafe actually gave me shoes off his feet. Your not going to find a better person than that.

    Just wanted to add to what you said and share a story with everyone.

    Darrel hit me up.

    Thanks again to all of the Revs fans out there. Keep coming out and supporting the team. They play hard for the old man.

    January 3, 2012 at 1:03 am

    • Chucky! Thanks for sharing, it doesn’t get any better than that. I could sing his praises all day, but it’s those types of things coming from his teammates that prove how special the guy is. How’s the college team doing?

      January 16, 2012 at 4:22 pm

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