Former Astros pitcher from PA reminisces on ’Dome, ‘rainbow’ uniforms
One of the most memorable moments in Xavier Hernandez’s 10-year Major League Baseball career came in the Houston Astrodome - when he was pitching for the Cincinnati Reds.
Down 4-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning on Sept. 5, 1995, the Port Arthur Thomas Jefferson graduate dinged future Hall of Famers Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell on their left arms with back-to-back pitches, leading to his ejection and prompting a bench-clearing brawl.
“I wouldn’t call it a special moment,” Hernandez said. “But it’s definitely one of my most memorable times in the ’Dome.”
The incident came in Hernandez’s only season with the Reds, in between two stints with the Astros. He joined Houston for his second MLB season in 1990, staying through 1993 before joining the New York Yankees for a strike-shortened 1994 season.
Growing up in Port Arthur, watching baseball on TV meant waiting for the one time a week a local station would show a game - typically involving a high-profile team like the Yankees or the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Catching an Astros game meant actually having to go to the Astrodome.
“We went once or twice a week,” Hernandez said. “We would go watch them play the Dodgers or the Reds. I was a big Pete Rose fan and about that time is when Fernando Valenzuela was in his prime.
“Of course, I also loved Nolan Ryan. That was the generation of baseball I grew up with.”
As a pitcher for T.J., Hernandez was All-State honors and led the Yellow Jackets to the Class 5A state title in 1983. He attended Southwestern Louisiana and was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in 1986.
He stayed with them until he joined the Astros in 1990, which led to one of the fondest memories of his career.
“We just broke training camp in Florida and flew back to Houston,” Hernandez recalled. “It was nighttime and we came back into the ’Dome - this was my first time in there as part of the organization.
“I walked out onto the Astroturf, went and lay down behind the pitcher’s mound and just stared back up at the roof. I was by myself in the darkened ’Dome. I’d seen so many games in this place growing up and I’m thinking, ‘Now I’m here.’ That was very special, that first time.”
High on his list of memories with the team are up-close-and-personal times with Biggio and Bagwell - when he wasn’t starting brawls with them - and witnessing a no-hitter thrown in 1993 by the late Darryl Kile.
His first four years as an Astro were during the last year’s of the team’s signature “rainbow” uniforms, which he loved - with one exception.
“The road jerseys were more yellow,” Hernandez said. “Off-white and yellow. I hated those, didn’t like them. When I rejoined the team, they had already moved to the updated logo and the road jerseys were grey. That was much better.”
After retiring, Hernandez spent eight years as an assistant in the Tampa Bay Rays organization between stints as a pitching coach for Houston Baptist University, where he currently works.
When he can, he’ll catch the Astros on TV or in person at Minute Maid Park.
“I’ve been out there a number of times,” Hernandez said. “It’s not the Astrodome, but it’s a very special place.
“I’m a lifelong fan and this is an exciting time for them. I’m happy to see them make it this far again. They’re putting out an exciting brand of baseball. I’m proud to call myself an ex-Astro.”
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