By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – No matter how tough she knew it was going to be for both her and her son, Susi Perez knew that letting her son Francisco Hernandez move away from their home in Montreal at the age of 16 was the correct decision.
He had a dream. He wanted to pursue a career in baseball. Remaining in Montreal would mean there was almost no chance it would happen.
“We had to make a tough choice,” Perez said.
She had to make the same decision again a year later with her youngest son, Brandon Hernandez. He followed his brother to the Dominican Republic, also in pursuit of the same dream.
As Francisco Hernandez, now 22, sat on a metal bleacher on the back fields of Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium this week, reflecting on those decisions brought a smile to his face.
He was wearing a Cardinals uniform, number 39. His dream of making it to the major leagues has not been realized, but he is playing professional baseball.
So too is his brother Brandon, and in what undoubtedly is a rare development in the sport, he also is a member of the Cardinals organization. The same scouts, Alix Martinez and Angel Ovalles, signed Francisco in July of 2017 and Brandon 15 months later in October 2018, both signing when they were 17.
“Our high school did not have a baseball team,” Hernandez said. “We had to leave to come and chase our dream. It just so happened we both signed with the same team.”
Francisco Hernandez spent last season playing for Palm Beach and Peoria. Brandon, two years younger, spent the summer with the rookie Complex League team. He will report to the Cardinals’ extended spring training program in early April.
Both Perez and Ian Jordan, who coached both Francisco and Brandon on the Montreal Titans youth teams, believes letting them live and train in the Dominican Republic was the only chance they had of playing baseball professionally.
“Kids coming out undrafted out of Montreal doesn’t happen,” Jordan said. “There’s no baseball programs in high schools in Quebec. We’ve had some good kids in our program, Russell Martin being the most famous. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of great kids, many of whom have gone on to play in college.
“Going to the Dominican Republic gave them (the Hernandez brothers) the eyes and the volume for them to be able to take that next step. They got the exposure they needed.
“Their mother made her sacrifices which I think the boys are truly grateful for and to have their mom do what she does for them. Isn’t it nice to have that? It’s a bond that will not be broken.”
Francisco was just 4 years old when Perez signed him up for T ball. It wasn’t long after that he started to fall in love with the sport. Born in Montreal, Perez loved the sport too. Her parents had moved to Canada from the Dominican Republic.
Brandon tagged along behind Francisco, and soon was playing T ball too, then advancing through the different levels of the local youth leagues.
As they grew, Perez looked for more opportunities for both, which led them to the Titans.
“They were naturally talented little boys in any sport they played,” Perez said. “They were talented in basketball too. They won awards in soccer too. When we had to make the decision to pursue baseball, the school basketball coach approached me and said how dare I choose for them?
“I had no choice. Baseball was the first sport they fell in love with. They grew up playing it. Every chance they got they would go to a park and play with their friends.”
Jordan could see the ability, and the passion, in both Francisco and Brandon. He believes now, years after coaching them, that the brotherly competition has pushed both of them to become more successful.
“They are close, and it’s so nice to see,” Jordan said. “Both are very proud kids. I think what helped them is having somebody in the house that when you don’t feel like going out to your job, they had somebody there to push them. There’s no way that isn’t a big plus.
“Once I got to see and know Francisco I could see there was a little bit of talent there. I was just fortunate enough to give him some skills and training mechanics to make him a better player.
“His brother was always hanging around, and we started working him out. He has tremendous drive and passion and just kept getting better. He is a passionate machine. He eats, drinks and sleeps baseball. He is a kid that I hope goes really far.”
Brandon, 20, has trained with Fernando Tatis Sr. in the Dominican Republic. He is there now in advance of reporting to the Cardinals’ spring training complex.
“We learn from each other,” Francisco Hernandez said. “I teach him what I know and he teaches me what he knows. We’ve always liked baseball. I used to watch Adrian Beltre and liked the way he played. You’ve got to learn from the best, right?
“I’m always learning, I’m always watching. I watch video of myself and try to learn everything. I think I’m getting more mature, and I’ve learned this game is all mental. That’s one thing I have tried to help Brandon with too.”
As nervous as he was to leave home, Hernandez soon knew he had made the right choice. He adapted quickly, mainly because of baseball, and now is trying to take the next steps on his journey through the Cardinals’ organization.
“I try and take as much advantage as I can, take it all in,” he said. “I want to play my hardest and get the most out of it. I’m excited for the season, and my brother is excited too. He’s kind of mad he isn’t here now.”
The brothers were together last spring, sharing the same hotel room.
“It was kind of sweet,” Francisco Hernandez said. “We used to fight when we were younger, but we kind of grew out of that.”
Both still live at home in Montreal during the off-season. Their mom has traveled to see both sons playing in the Dominican Republic, but has yet to see them play as professionals in the U.S.
“They have always been very close,” said Perez, who has another older son, Gabriel, who did not have the chance to move to the Dominican when he was younger. “Francisco and Brandon were always monkey see, monkey do. They love to copy each other. I think they compliment each other. There has never really been any brotherly rivalry between them.
“They were always together. Some years they were on the same team. I remember them playing against each other and they said it was like when the Williams sisters opposed each other in tennis – whoever wins, we still win.”
Brandon Hernandez said in an email from the Dominican Republic, “We’ve always done almost everything together since we were kids. I know when I was 6 and he was 8 we would draw or write what we wanted in life on the wall in our room and we both wrote ‘MLB’ without saying anything to each other. We were always on the same page, we’ve always wanted the same things out of life.”
The fact that Brandon was able to sign with the Cardinals, just like his older brother, was not something he or his mom could have predicted before he left home.
“Honestly the plan wasn’t to try and get signed with the same team as my brother,” Brandon Hernandez said. “It was just to make it to the pro level, when we were kids. We always played on the same team even though his group was older… to me it’s a part of God’s plan because we literally went from playing on the same team in Little League to playing on the same pro team years later.
“I can’t really describe it but it was definitely an incredible feeling to finally sign my first pro contract and for it to be with the same team as my brother just made me realize that not a lot of siblings get the chance to play on the team and do something special like this. I’m really grateful for all of this.”
Jordan thinks that just adds to their success story.
“What a wonderful story,” he said. “I saw Brandon about two weeks ago, before he left. I know the odds of making it to the majors are infinitely small. But the fact both are playing in the same system, how can you not be happy for something like that?
“Hopefully they will do well. I am so happy for them. There’s a lot of love in that family. The mom wanted to give the boys the best opportunity for them.”
Perez knows she made the right decision.
“They had to go,” she said. “It led to this.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
Photos courtesy of Susi Perez, Brandon Hernandez