Puerto Ricans Helping Dodgers Pursue World Series

“Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Dodgers 0, St. Louis Cardinals 0, Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California” by Ken Lund is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The last time Major League Baseball was forced to play a shortened season, the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. Oddsmakers are of the belief that history will repeat itself this season in baseball’s first shortened campaign since the 1981 season was reduced by a strike.

If you were betting on sports in California, you could get +250 favorite’s odds on the Dodgers to win the World Series. They’ve been baseball’s best team all season long, posting an MLB-leading 43-17 record during the regular season, which was shortened from 162 to 60 games due to a COVID-19 induced pause.

Things didn’t go as well for the Yankees. Injury-riddled for a second season in succession, the Bronx Bombers ended up second in the American League East with a 33-27 record. That hasn’t deterred the bookmakers, however. The Yankees are still favored to win the AL title and at +350 are the second betting choice to win the World Series.

Puerto Rican Flavor

If the Dodgers are to win the World Series for the first time since the fall of 1988, they will do so with a significant Puerto Rican contribution. Enrique (Kike) Hernandez of San Juan, a seven-season big-league veteran, was the everyday second baseman for the Dodgers this season, playing 48 of 60 games. Hernandez, 28, batted .230 with five home runs and 20 RBI.

Hernandez has proven a valuable performer in previous postseasons for the Dodgers. He hit .429 in last season’s NLDS. During the 2017 NLCS, Hernandez batted .444. He hit three homers and drove in seven runs. Hernandez finished the series with a 1.444 slugging percentage and a 1.990 on-base plus slugging percentages (OPS).

He’s one of two Puerto Ricans on the Dodgers’ roster. Backup third baseman Edwin Rios, 26, of Caguas batted .250 this season with eight home runs and 14 extra-base hits in just 76 at-bats.

“Enrique Hernandez’s stance looks like this.” by Minda Haas Kuhlmann is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Considered Opting Out

MLB gave players the opportunity to opt out of this season if they had concerns about how COVID-19 might impact their families. Hernandez pondered this option. His wife Mariana is pregnant with their first child.

They announced the pregnancy in unique fashion on Hernandez’s Twitter feed. Posting a series of photos of Kike and Mariana standing side by side, Kike is seen with a huge bump under his shirt. Mariana kissed the bump and held up a onesie with the words “Hello, I’m new here” printed on it.

Eventually, the final photo in the sequence showed Kike with his shirt off, displaying his fake baby bump.

Even though fatherhood beckoned, ultimately, Hernandez, who is in the final year of his contract and eligible for free agency at season’s end, decided that playing the season and having a shot at the World Series was something he didn’t want to miss.

He was part of the Dodgers’ teams that lost in the 2017 and 2018 World Series. Should he depart via the free-agent route, this might be his last chance to capture a title with this group of players.

Campaigning For Clemente

This season, Hernandez and Rios added their voices to the campaign to encourage MLB to retire No. 21 across all teams in honor of the legacy of Puerto Rican baseball legend Roberto Clemente.

Both players donned Dodgers jerseys emblazoned with No. 21 on Sept. 9 – Roberto Clemente Day – paying homage to their idol. Hernandez homered that night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“As a Puerto Rican, you kind of grow up looking up to Roberto Clemente for everything he did and what he stands for,” Rios told DodgerBlue.com. “For us to start this movement and be able to wear No. 21 on our backs is something special.”

A Hall of Fame outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates who clouted 3,000 hits and won two World Series, Clemente is remembered as much for his humanitarian work as for what he achieved on the baseball diamond. He died in a 1972 plane crash while delivering aid to victims of an earthquake in Nicaragua.

“I don’t want to say the perfect human, but he put everybody else before himself,” Rios said. “He died to take food and clothes to people in Nicaragua.

“It’s crazy the type of person he was. If I can be half the person he was, I think I’ll be OK.”