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Wildcat player Hernandez transitions to Auburn for the summer

Venezuela native learned English while playing baseball
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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For Manny Hernandez, playing for the Auburn Wildcats is all about having fun.

Hernandez, 22, usually plays for Canisius College in New York, but is playing short stop and second base for the Wildcats, a collegiate baseball team that brings in players from all corners of the country, this summer.

Though he is new to Auburn, Hernandez was in even more unfamiliar territory when he moved to New York from Valencia, Venezuela in 2008.

He left behind his family and friends originally for Genesee Community College just outside Buffalo, N.Y., where he at least knew his cousin.

When he arrived, he did not know how to speak English.

"I needed to be somewhere where someone could help me out and I could get used to the culture and figure out how to be on my own," Hernandez said.

Hernandez was born in Venezuela and lived there until he left for New York at 18. He never played organized baseball in high school, but always had time to play in the streets with his friends since age 6.

"I play the game for fun. When I was a little boy I played with the bigger boys and even now when I get on the field I still play for fun," Hernandez said.

Upon arriving in the United States in 2008, Hernandez said not speaking English was not only tough in social situations and in class, it was difficult on the field.

It would take his cousin moving away and two years before he would be comfortable speaking English.

"It was tough, really, really tough for me. I couldn't communicate at all and most of the time I was lost," Hernandez said. "I remember my coach talking to me on the field and being lost."

That didn't hinder his performance on the field. Hernandez was an all-conference player at Genesee during the 2008-2009 season and the 2010-2011 season.

After three years at Genesee, he earned a full ride to Canisius, where he will play this year and continue pursuing a general studies major.

Steve and Cyndi George are acting as host parents for Hernandez and fellow player Joey Havrilak, of Washington, Pa. The Georges have never been a host family before, but have been involved with the team.

Steve oversees the umpires for the Wildcats and their son, Brandon, 14, is a batboy.

"We are responsible for feeding them, we have offered them both work at our business, we support them during their baseball games by going to all of the games that we can," Cyndi George said. "We're involved with them as if they are our own children."

While they are hosting Hernandez and Havrilak, the Georges would like to take them to places like San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, and Monterey.

"But it's kind of hard to travel when they're working and playing all of the time," Cyndi George said.

Hernandez feels gratitude not only toward the Georges for letting him stay for the summer, but also toward his friends, family, girlfriend's family, and coaches who have helped him along the way.

He also said he feels more comfortable in California in terms of the weather.

"It feels more like home, weather-wise," he said. "In New York it's hot and humid and here it's just hot and dry all the time."

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Ambr_AJNews.