Hernandez enjoys cup of coffee

PHILADELPHIA – Mets manager Willie Randolph calls Anderson Hernandez a "baby" and uses "the kid" in place of his given name. Such is life as a young player around the Mets' clubhouse, where players like David Wright are also considered "babies" and Jose Reyes "a young colt."

And through three big league games and 12 at-bats, 'the kid' still doesn't have his first major league hit. With Kaz Matsui out for what appears to be the rest of the year, Hernandez should at least get a few more cracks against big league pitching, a few more chances in the infield.

He probably won't have the late-season impact Mike Jacobs has shown, opening eyes all around baseball with eight home runs entering Wednesday's action. But no matter what, the season has been a success for Hernandez, the Mets' rising 22-year-old infield prospect.

Hernandez went to New York earlier this month to get his wrist (hit by a pitch in the closing days of Triple-A Norfolk's season) checked out, to pick up his Sterling Award for a starring performance at Double-A Binghamton, but not to join the major league club.

In fact, Randolph even told reporters at one point that he didn't expect Hernandez to be put on the roster; that all changed when Matsui suffered yet another frustrating injury, opening a space for Hernandez as the Mets designated lefty Dae-Sung Koo for assignment.

"It's been great," Hernandez said, breaking into a wide grin. "At first, I didn't think I was coming up here. Then, they changed their mind and said they wanted me. I'm glad."

In the Mets' first two games at Philadelphia, Randolph has opted to start veteran Miguel Cairo, who is beginning to hit after a second-half drought – Cairo stroked another two hits Wednesday, so he'll likely get back in the lineup on Wednesday as the Mets close the series.

Hernandez doesn't worry – he believes he is ready for the major league challenge. For the first time in his minor league career, lessons and tips began to stick this season, making the move from practice to game situations.

The results? A .326 average in 66 games at Double-A, followed by a .303 showing in the same number of contests at Triple-A Norfolk.

No wonder Binghamton manager Jack Lind speculated earlier this year that Hernandez might be the best switch-hitting prospect the longtime baseball man has seen.

"I think it was experience," Hernandez said. "Maybe it's maturity."

Or, maybe it was the sting of being dealt by the Detroit Tigers, the only organization Hernandez had ever known. The trade came on Jan. 6, when Hernandez picked up the telephone in his hotel room while playing winter ball – he'd been traded to the Mets for Vance Wilson, a steady if unspectacular backup catcher.

Looking back, Hernandez recalls the burn of the call. He also says the sting fueled his desires to be a better player, to show Detroit what they'd given up on.

"Everyone said the Tigers wanted me, [thought I was a] top prospect, all that," Hernandez said. "Then, I get a phone call one day and they tell me they traded me. I guess they didn't want me after all."

The Tigers' loss may be the Mets' gain, with some even raising Hernandez's name as a possible answer for second base in 2006. Hernandez smiles but quickly backs away when the topic is raised, as though he had just touched a hot stove.

"I don't like to think about that," Hernandez said. "Who knows? All I can do is my best. I hope it is good enough."

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