Tony Fernandez Redux
He Works Hard For His Hitting
There's no fat in Tony Fernandez's day. From the minute he arrives at the ballpark, Fernandez (above), the Blue Jays' soon-to-be 37-year-old third baseman, is either busy or rushing to someplace where hell be busy. Running stairs hours before game time. Stretching. Taking BR Hitting off a tee. Jogging to the indoor cage for pregame swings. Scurrying to a postgame lifting session. Says Toronto first base coach Lloyd Moseby, Fernandez's teammate with the Jays in the mid-1980s, "His preparation is unbelievable."
Mapped out with all the flexibility of a military operation, the regimen, which the 6'2" Fernandez has followed throughout his career, has him playing at a wiry 195 pounds and in the best shape of his 16-year career. It also makes him all but inaccessible to reporters, a throng of which will be following his every move later in the season if he continues to hit at his current pace. Through Sunday, Fernandez had a 10-game hitting streak and was leading the majors with a .411 average. It's a bit early to entertain thoughts of his exceeding the hallowed 400 figure for the whole season, but Fernandez on Sunday surpassed another mark: His 1-for-l performance in a 2-1 win over the Royals gave him 2,178 hits in his career, the most by a major leaguer born in the Dominican Republic (Julio Franco had 2,177).
That record and his torrid streak are crests in a tumultuous sine curve of a career. A three-time All-Star shortstop by the time he was 28, Fernandez had his right cheekbone shattered by a fastball from the Rangers' Cecilio Guante in April 1989. He missed only 21 games and returned to hit .257 for Toronto that season. Over the next six years he would play for five teams and make another All-Star team, in '92, but would never finish above .279. When he missed the '96 season with a broken right elbow, his career appeared over.
The Indians took a flier by signing Fernandez before the 1997 season, and he became their everyday second baseman. He put Cleveland in the World Series with an 11th-inning homer in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series against the Orioles. Eleven days later he booted a grounder that opened the door for the Marlins' 11th-inning World Series-winning Game 7 rally.
A free agent after the season, the switch-hitting Fernandez resigned with the Blue Jays and has enjoyed a renaissance. A career .285 hitter when he returned to the Jays, he had batted .350 for them through Sunday. That improvement is partly a result of experience and a knowledge of the strike zone gained in his 16 seasons, but Fernandez's fountain of youth is his dizzying daily routine, which combines a Puritan work ethic with a mad scientist's resourcefulness. "We've always called him Professor Gadget," says Moseby. "You wouldn't believe the things he carries with him—marbles, grips, broken bats he uses to do wrist curls. He'll turn anything into a strengthening or stretching tool."
"He's so focused, on his workouts and on every at bat," says Jays manager Jim Fregosi. That concentration has meant increased run production for the gap-hitting Fernandez, who has spent most of this season in the fifth spot in the order. His .473 average with runners in scoring position led the American League, and with 49 RBIs he was on pace to eclipse his career high of 72 set last year.
As for his possible run at .400, Fernandez won't say much. "Wait till September, when it means something," he said last Saturday. He had politely answered a few questions about the .400 barrier and was gulping a protein shake as he inched toward the weight room. "Now, I'm sorry, but I really have to go. I have work to do."
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