The Hernandez brothers talk about joining the Cardinals organization

“To me, it’s 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.”

JUPITER, Fla. — No matter how hard she knew it would be for her and her son, Susi Perez knew letting her son Francisco Hernandez leave their Montreal home at age 16 was the right decision.

He had a dream. He wanted to pursue a career in baseball. Staying in Montreal meant there was almost no chance of that happening.

“We had to make a tough choice,” Perez said.

She had to make the same decision 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 at the back of Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium this week, thinking about those decisions made him smile.

He wore a Cardinals uniform, number 39. His dream of making it to the major leagues didn’t come true, but he plays professional baseball.

The same goes for his brother Brandon, and in what is undoubtedly a rare development in sports, he is also a member of the Cardinals organization. The same scouts, Alix Martinez and Angel Ovalles, signed Francisco in July 2017 and Brandon 15 months later in October 2018, both signed at the age of 17.

“Our high school didn’t have a baseball team,” Hernandez said. “We had to leave to come and pursue our dream. It turns out that we both signed with the same team.

Francisco Hernandez spent last season playing for Palm Beach and Peoria. Brandon, two years his junior, spent the summer with the Complex League rookie team. He will report to the Cardinals’ extended spring training schedule in early April.

Perez and Ian Jordan, who coached Francisco and Brandon on the Montreal Titans youth teams, believe letting them live and train in the Dominican Republic was the only chance they had to play baseball professionally.

“Young people who come out of Montreal undrafted don’t arrive,” Jordan said. “There is no baseball program in Quebec high schools. 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 through college.

“Going to the Dominican Republic gave them (the Hernandez brothers) the eyes and the volume so they could take the next step. They got the exposure they needed.

“Their mother made her sacrifices which I think the boys are really grateful for and for their mother to do what she does for them. Isn’t it nice to have that? It is a bond that will not be broken. »

Francisco was only 4 years old when Perez signed him up for T-ball. Soon after, he began to fall in love with this sport. Born in Montreal, Perez also loved sports. His parents had left the Dominican Republic to settle in Canada.

Brandon followed Francisco and quickly played T-ball, then progressed through the various tiers of local youth leagues.

As they grew, Perez looked for more opportunities for the two, which led them to the Titans.

“They were naturally talented little boys in every sport they played,” Perez said. “They were also talented in basketball. They also won awards in football. When we had to make the decision to pursue baseball, the school’s basketball coach approached me and told me how dare I choose for them?

“I had no choice. Baseball was the first sport they fell in love with. They grew up playing. Every chance they got, they would go to a park and play with their friends.

Jordan could see the ability and passion in Francisco and Brandon. He now believes, years after coaching them, that sibling competition has driven them both to become more successful.

“They’re close and it’s so nice to see,” Jordan said. “Both are very proud children. I think what helped them was having someone at home who, when you didn’t feel like going to work, had someone there. to push them in. There’s no way it’s not a big plus.

“Once I saw and got to know Francisco, I could see there was a bit of talent there. I just had the chance to give him skills and drive mechanisms to do him a better player.

“His brother was still hanging around and we started working on him. He has tremendous drive and passion and just keeps getting better. It’s a passionate machine. He eats, drinks and sleeps baseball. He’s a kid who I hope will go very far.

Brandon, 20, trained with Fernando Tatis Sr. in the Dominican Republic. He’s there now ahead of reporting to the Cardinals’ spring training complex.

“We learn from each other,” said Francisco Hernandez. “I teach him what I know and he teaches me what he knows. We have always loved baseball. I used to watch Adrian Beltre and I liked the way he played. You have to learn from the best, right?

“I’m still learning, I’m still watching. I watch a video of myself and try to learn everything. I think I’m getting more mature and learned that this game is all mental. That’s something I tried to help Brandon with as well.

As nervous as he was to leave the house, Hernandez soon knew he had made the right choice. He adapted quickly, mostly because of baseball, and is now trying to take the next steps on his journey through the Cardinals organization.

“I try to make the most of it, take it all in,” he said. “I want to play my best and make the most of it. I’m excited for the season, and my brother is excited too. He’s kinda crazy not to be here now.

The brothers were together last spring, sharing the same hotel room.

“It was pretty sweet,” Francisco Hernandez said. “We used to fight when we were younger, but we kind of grew from that.”

Both still live at home in Montreal during the offseason. Their mother has traveled to see the two sons play in the Dominican Republic, but has yet to see them play as professionals in the United States.

“They’ve always been really close,” said Perez, who has another eldest son, Gabriel, who didn’t get the chance to move to the Dominicans when he was younger. “Francisco and Brandon have always been see-monkeys, do-monkeys. They love to copy themselves. I think they complement each other. There was never really any sibling 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 played against each other in tennis – no matter who wins, we always 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 drew or wrote whatever we wanted in life on our bedroom wall and we both wrote “MLB” without saying anything to each other. We were always on the same wavelength, we always wanted the same things in life.

The fact that Brandon was able to sign with the Cardinals, just like his older brother, was not something he or his mother could have predicted before leaving home.

“Honestly, the plan wasn’t to try to sign with the same team as my brother,” Brandon Hernandez said. “It was just to get to the professional level, when we were kids. We always played in the same team even though his group was older…for me, it’s part of God’s plan because we literally went from playing in the same Little League team to play 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 professional contract and to be with the same team as my brother made me realize that not many siblings have the chance to playing on the team and doing something special like that. I’m really grateful for all of that.

Jordan thinks this only adds to their success.

“What a great story,” he said. “I saw Brandon about two weeks ago, before he left. I know that the chances of reaching the majors are infinitesimally small. But the fact that both play in the same system, how can you not be happy for something like that?

“I hope they do well. I’m so happy for them. There’s a lot of love in this family. The mum wanted to give the boys the best opportunity for them.

Perez knows she made the right decision.

“They had to leave,” she said. “It led to this.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains

Photos courtesy of Susi Perez, Brandon Hernandez