30 for 30 On Livan Hernandez

I got a kick out of watching ESPN’s 30-for-30 documentary on Livan Hernandez and his stepbrother, Orlando Hernandez.

How does this pertain to the Rays?

Well, the “Devil Rays” entertained the Cuban defector back in 1996.  Hernandez, just 20 at the time, fellow defector Osvaldo Fernandez and their agent, Joe Cubas, were wined and dined by then general manager Chuck Lamar and owner Vince Naimoli.  Following a dinner at the Columbia Restaurant — which virtually everybody in the Devil Rays’ organization attended — Hernandez at breakfast at the Vinoy in St. Petersburg while answering questions by Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times and me (I worked for The Tampa Tribune at the time).

In the documentary they speak about the Cuban economy that tanked in the early 1990s after losing their backing from the Soviet Union.  They segued from that to explain how dire everyday life became in the aftermath of losing that support.  That made the most memorable thing from out meeting understandable.  Hernandez ate like a prisoner on death row.  After one heaping mound of food on his plate, he ate another.  Hernandez’s weight is mentioned in the documentary.

He did not sign with the Devil Rays, who did not begin playing until 1998, but they were on the right track.  Hernandez had a decent Major League career.  A career that saw him fight his weight the entire time.

— Bill Chastain

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