Hernandez's friends well know the conflict. Lynch says he once heard Keith say, "God, why doesn't he leave me alone?"—then a half hour later he heard Keith on the phone asking his dad for help with his stroke. After a game one night last year, Keith, whom everyone calls the Mex, turned to Staub, formerly Le Grand Orange, and said, "Orange, the Mex stinks. I talked to Juan last night."
"You look a little different swinging the bat," said Staub.
"Yeah, I talked to Juan and he said, 'I used to not see the word Mets on your shirt. Now I can. Bring your hands up.' "
Soon after Hernandez made the adjustment, he went on a tear. That is how well the father knows his son's batting stance. Lynch recalls answering the phone in Keith's condo and speaking to John, whom he had never met. "After I told him who I was, you know what he said? He said, 'You're pitching against the Cubs next week. Ryne Sandberg has been swinging at the first pitch lately.' I thought, this is Keith's dad."
Thanks, or no thanks, to John, Hernandez keeps performing at the highest levels. "I'm expected to hit .300 and drive in 90 runs," he says, "but there are times when I wish I were a .250 hitter. There are times when I go out there and wish Darryl had this at bat, or Gary [Carter]. It doesn't happen often, but I'm human."
Gary Hernandez looks forward to the day when Keith retires. "There won't be the pressure that Keith puts on himself to be the top player that he is," says Gary. "He won't feel the pressure from Dad. And Dad will have to think about other things to do. They will be able to relate as human beings and not have everything keyed around Keith's performance. I won't be stuck in the middle. So things will be better all the way around."
Keith, too, thinks of retirement, of his life 10 years hence and the future he fears. He has this dream. "I want to be on the Pacific Coast. An accomplished sailor. A 30-foot boat. Sailing to Hawaii. Lying on the deck with a beer, with friends. Deep-sea fishing. Drop anchor and fish at night. Tranquil. The seas are calm. Nice breeze. The water is hitting the boat. Birds. The wind flapping a flag on the boat. The sound of water."
But of course. There he is, floating in middle age across the ocean. The boat, you see, is yet another sanctuary, surrounded by the biggest, most embracing moat of all.