July 23, 2023 2:29 pm | by Amanda Foster
When Jedier Hernandez showed up to Wareham in the beginning of June, he wasn’t sure he was even going to play. The catcher out of Seton Hall was signed to a temporary contract and didn’t think he put up good enough numbers at the plate in the spring to warrant playing time for the Gatemen.
“I was like ‘Man, I don’t think I’m even going to play,’” Hernandez said. “‘They’re going to cut me.’ So I was thinking, ‘Yo, I gotta figure this out.’”
Fast-forward to more than halfway through the Cape Cod Baseball League season and it’s clear that Hernandez has, in fact, figured it out. The rising junior entered the transfer portal and was able to achieve one of the goals he set of playing in the SEC by committing to the University of Missouri. He has become a mainstay behind the plate for the Gatemen, shouldering all of the responsibilities that come with being a catcher in the best collegiate summer baseball league in the United States.
“He’s been fantastic,” manager Ryan Smyth said. “I think he has a really good pulse for our pitchers, he keeps them locked in…you want a leader back there, and I think he’s been a prime example of it.”
When Hernandez arrived in Wareham, he felt like he really had nothing to lose. He didn’t know how long he was going to be with the team, how many games he would play in or even how successful he would be when he played. He realized, in a summer full of unknowns, the only thing he could control was himself.
“The only way to succeed out here, playing against the best, is mentally,” Hernandez said. “Everyone has the same talent, everyone can play, but can you be mentally sharp and mentally tough?”
Before each game, Hernandez takes time to center himself and remember his three big things: keep things simple, focus on the present and compete
“If I can do those three things and control what I can, everything else I can’t control,” he said. “That’s my base, that’s what I’ve got to do.”
As someone who can easily get stuck in his head and focus too much on the past, Hernandez is always aware of how his thoughts — subconscious or conscious — can affect his game. He has preached about the importance of having the right mentality throughout his summer on the Cape, learning to tap into himself and what he’s experienced in the past in order to better himself in the present and for the future. Of course, his long hours of training and extensive warm-up and cool-down routines also played a major factor in getting Hernandez where he is now. But if you ask him, the most important thing is how you train your mind.
“I really believe that after the seasons I had — the last two seasons — that it’s all mental,” Hernandez said. “Just playing the game, not being robotic, a bunch of stuff (like that). Believing in myself, controlling what you can.”
As he grew up and played his first two years of college baseball at Seton Hall, Hernandez was surrounded by people who believed in him. His parents, coaches and family supported him every step of the way, some even offering advice based on their own experiences.
Hernandez had easy access to baseball insight in part because of who his family is. His cousins, the Molina brothers — Yadier, José and Bengie — were all supremely successful catchers at the major league level. But they didn’t have as much of an impact on Hernandez’s baseball career as most might think.
“(There was) no pressure, honestly, nothing crazy,” Hernandez said. “I’m the closest to (Bengie). He’s helped me a lot with the mental side of believing in myself. (He’s) another guy that always believed in me and always said to just work hard. Work hard, you can achieve anything.”
Hernandez is fueled by his mindset, and as much as the support from outside sources means, he’s discovered that the most important thing is for him to trust in himself no matter what.
“It’s easy to believe in yourself when you’re 4-for-4, but can you believe in yourself when you’re 0-for-10?,” he said. “I was always in a roller coaster mindset…this game pushes you, you’ve got to stay even-keeled every time.”
During his summer with the Gatemen, Hernandez has been the definition of even-keeled. He doesn’t let mistakes get to him and he has harnessed the right mindset of having faith in himself while always working to improve. The catcher has stood out among his peers in the league, not only for the fact that he is expected to stay the whole summer after coming in on a temporary contract, but because of how successful he has been when he’s stepped foot on the field.
“He’s outlasted a lot of catchers out here,” Smyth said. “He’s been very active, he’s vocal. We’ve been calling pitches the last two, three games and we’re right on the same page so he’s like-minded…he’s everything you want in a catcher.”
From an outside perspective, baseball seems to come relatively easy to Hernandez. His lightning-fast reflexes and agility seem perfectly natural, but that wasn’t always the case. The confidence with which he plays now is a testament to his determination, perseverance and hard work.
Hernandez grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, in what he called “the hood”. His mother and father worked hard for him and did everything they could to set him up for success, whether it was in school or in sports.
“It’s a blessing, honestly, coming from there,” Hernandez said. “And I take pride in saying I’m from Trenton, New Jersey, because not a lot of people make it out from there.”
Hernandez’s start in baseball began in Hamilton, a town right next to Trenton. When he was five years old, he started playing in Little League for a team called the Hamilton Little Lads. It was there, when he was eight years old, that he met one of the most influential people in his life.
“I met this guy named David Zamora, and he pretty much changed my life,” Hernandez said. “He called me for a tryout for one of his travel teams, (and) it ended up being one of the best travel teams in the country…that tryout changed my life.”
The ability to play travel baseball from such a young age, as impressive as it was, was also somewhat of a double-edged sword for Hernandez. In describing himself as a child, he said he wasn’t fast, he couldn’t hit and was always the “worst player on the team”. As a chubby kid, he never played any other position besides catcher. So when he got to travel ball and was surrounded by hosts of other talented kids, he felt out of place at times.
“It was tough growing up, honestly,” Hernandez said. “That’s probably one of my dark sides and what makes me me, just coming in and going through all of the trials and tribulations at that young age…It was tough, man, just playing with a good-ass team and I was like the worst player on the team, not supposed to make it (or) be where I’m at right now, honestly.”
But he kept pushing through, working hard and grabbing the attention of those around him. When Hernandez was 13 he met his future coach, Keith Naylor.
“That’s a man that has changed the second part of my life right now, so far,” Hernandez said. “He’s done it all — my hitting coach, my high school coach, my mentor, my second dad. I mean, you name it, he’s done it for me…He gave me the chance, he risked it all for me.”
The two first met during Hernandez’s eighth-grade summer, and when it was time for the catcher to head to high school, Naylor — the high school coach at a local private school, Trenton Catholic Academy — encouraged Hernandez to join him there.
By the time he reached his senior year, Hernandez felt like he was on top of the world. His most successful baseball season was his senior season, and the only thing on his mind was getting drafted right out of high school. Everything felt like it was on the right track, and Hernandez was confident everything was going to work out.
So when he wasn’t selected, he was devastated.
“The past two years at Seton Hall weren’t the best, because that was the first time I faced failure,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t know how to deal with it, honestly. That’s where I got punched in the face with the baseball.”
While Hernandez was in fine shape physically, his mentality about baseball, and life, took a turn for the worse. He started questioning everything.
“I’m a very spiritual guy, I believe in God, but I really didn’t believe in him (then),” Hernandez said. “I was questioning him without me knowing and in the past few years, my mental side went really, really bad.”
Hernandez’ mind filled with confusion, wondering why God had put him in this situation. It affected his ability to play baseball, as he would get into slumps and struggle to find his way out. Hernandez’s statistics won’t show the extent to which his mentality affected his life, but his doubts rooted themselves deep in his mind and didn’t seem like they would go away.
When he arrived in Wareham, he didn’t know what his future would look like.
The thought of entering the transfer portal was floating in Hernandez’s mind when he traveled to Cape Cod, but he wasn’t sure what he should do. With renewed faith, he turned to God for the answer.
“When I got here, I was like ‘God, listen. If it’s meant to be for me to leave (Seton Hall), you’re gonna let me know,’ and I ended up killing it,” Hernandez said. “And I just feel like the Cape really helped because I was like, ‘Yeah, I could play against these guys’.”
Hernandez’s success with the Gatemen is what caught the eyes of the Missouri baseball program, who made their interests clear to Hernandez when he entered the transfer portal in June. Ultimately, that was what led him to choose the Tigers as his next home.
“I felt like they were going to put me in the best position for me to succeed, to get to the next level,” Hernandez said. “And they were the ones that were like ‘we want you’. They wanted me bad, and I was like ‘what else do I want?’. SEC, Mizzou, everything’s there.”
Hernandez credits a great deal of his recent accomplishments and life changes to playing in the Cape League. Wareham has been the place where he’s been able to reap the benefits of his changed mindset and gained the confidence and clarity he needed to know he’s on the right path.
Hernandez has excelled in his role throughout the summer, working well with a plethora of pitchers he’s never caught before and through leading the team from behind the dish. He has grown from a boy who felt he was always the worst player on the team to a man who is self-assured, driven and talented enough to play among the best collegiate baseball players in the country.
And he did it by working on himself.
“I just had to wake up,” Hernandez said. “If not, I would not still be here.”