Hernandez apologetic, glad to be back with team
Pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona looking for comeback
CLEVELAND -- Roberto Hernandez sat inside an interview room across the hall from the Indians' home clubhouse on Sunday afternoon, facing cameras and reporters for the first time as himself. His identity fraud issues are officially in the past and now he just wants to pitch.
Wearing a full Cleveland uniform, a sticker still under the brim of his brand new Indians hat, Hernandez spent more than 20 minutes answering questions, choosing a handful to sidestep along the way. It could take months or years for his whole story to be known, but there is one fact that Hernandez made clear.
Was it worth it?
"No," he answered quietly.
Hernandez, finally with a new working visa in hand, will spend the next three works working through a stint in the Minor Leagues while serving the three-week suspension that was handed down by Major League Baseball on Saturday. On Aug. 11, after six months of legal issues that followed more than a decade of living a lie, Hernandez will be eligible to rejoin the Indians.
Sunday marked a kind of homecoming for Hernandez -- formerly known as Fausto Carmona -- and he received plenty of hugs from teammates who sought him out inside the locker room. Hanging inside his usual stall, tucked behind two large posts and some cabinets, Cleveland had his familiar No. 55 jersey waiting with his real name stitched across the back.
There was still one question on everyone's mind, though.
"What should we call you?" one Indians teammate asked. "Roberto? Rob? Bobby?"
"Whatever you want," Hernandez said with a smile.
"If I call you 'Bob,' will you answer?"
"Yeah," Hernandez said as he walked away.
At 2 p.m. ET, the Indians held a team "gathering," as it was described on the clubhouse white boards. The purpose was to welcome Hernandez back to his team, and to have a little fun with him, too. Hernandez's teammates awaited with three birthday cakes -- one for each of the years his real identity added to his age.
Hernandez's actual birthday is Aug. 30, 1980, making him 31 years old. Until his Jan. 19 arrest outside the American consulate in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, the Indians believed the pitcher was 28 years old. Hernandez was arrested on charges of using a false name -- charges that were eventually dropped in favor of having the pitcher perform community service.
"I'm sure for him, there's a lot of weight lifted off his shoulders," Indians starter Justin Masterson said. "He can finally be himself -- literally. I think any of us in a similar situation would've done the exact same thing. I've been [to the D.R.] many times. It's one of those things where it doesn't make it right, but you can understand."
For years, scouts have hesitated to sign Dominican kids older than 16-18 years old, forcing some players and their families to consider falsifying information to get a contract. A professional contract can drastically alter the quality of life for some Dominican families, helping convince players to go down that route.
During this past Spring Training, Hernandez willingly restructured his contract with Cleveland. He can earn $2.5 million plus incentives this season, when he was originally scheduled to earn $7 million. The pitcher's 2013 club option has been reduced to $6 million from $9 million, and the $12 million club option for '14 has been removed entirely.
Indians manager Manny Acta, who is also from the D.R., said the situation on the island is better now than it was when Hernandez was a young prospect.
"Major League Baseball is doing a tremendous job," Acta said. "It's unfortunate that the system that was set up, [that] it worked that way. Our dream is to sign a professional contract. In the past there, if a guy wasn't 17 or 18 years old, it was tough to get signed."
Hernandez was 20 when he signed, but by using the name and age of Carmona -- a distant relative -- he was able to persuade the Indians that he was only 17 years old. On Sunday, Hernandez declined to delve into the specifics of his decision, and whether it was his own, or whether he was coerced into changing his name.
"Really, for me," said Hernandez, speaking through interpreter Charisse Dash, one of the pitcher's agents, "I'm just going to keep moving forward and not talk about that."
Hernandez did speak about his strong feelings of remorse, and how he wanted to spend time sending a message of prevention to young Dominican ballplayers while the pitcher was sequestered in his home country. Hernandez went around to different camps, speaking to players who were near the age at which they typically sign contracts.
"I told them not to do what I did," Hernandez said. "I really focused on players between the age of 15-16 that we're about to sign. I wanted to be there for them to ask questions and be a source for them, so they didn't have to make the same mistake I did."
Hernandez described the past several months as "chaotic" for him in terms of dealing with the reaction in the Dominican Republic to his crime. He said the most humiliating moments were his trips back to the American consulate, where he had to check in multiple times to see if he could gain clearance to return to the United States.
Each time Hernandez stepped back into those offices, embarrassment swept over him.
"Those were the hardest moments," he said, "just having to go in there again was difficult."
As Hernandez waited for his new visa over the past six months, he spent his days training at the Indians' baseball academy in the D.R. The pitcher worked through mound sessions and simulated games, and arrived on Sunday in impressive shape.
When Acta shook hands with Hernandez, that was one of the first things he noticed.
"It's great to see him," Acta said. "I was very impressed with his physical shape. When he walked into my office, I was very happy to see that. I know that he was antsy, and probably at times discouraged, but he never stopped working and it shows.
"We hope everything works out the way we plan it and we can add him."
Hernandez will throw in a bullpen session in front of Cleveland's coaching staff on Monday at Progressive Field. Following that brief showcase of his current shape, he will head to one of the Indians' local affiliates (Triple-A Columbus, Double-A Akron and Class A Lake County each have upcoming homestands) to begin his comeback.
Over six seasons with Cleveland, Hernandez has gone 53-66 with a 4.51 ERA in 181 games. His best season came in 2007, when the right-hander finished 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA and was fourth in balloting for the American League Cy Young Award. Last year, he went 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA in 32 starts for the Indians.
Hernandez would not fault his off-field issues for his poor performance on the mound.
"I'm not going to use that as an excuse," he said. "I had that on my shoulders and it was a little bit of pressure, but I'm not going to use that as a reason for my performance last season. I want to forget what has happened. It's a new day. I just want to help my team going forward."
That step began with Hernandez issuing an apology.
"I'm extremely remorseful for what happened," Hernandez said. "I apologize to my fans, to my teammates, to the team and to everyone who looked up to me at that point. This is a new chance for me."