Baseball: Wheeling's Hernandez enjoys a league of her own
Wheeling's Delanee Hernandez just wanted to play ball.
High school baseball that is.
That despite the fact that just about everyone else encouraged Hernandez, who is a girl, to play softball.
This year, Hernandez, who is a senior, was promoted to the Wheeling varsity, becoming the first girl to play varsity baseball for a Mid-Suburban League team.
She added to her lore last week, when in a game against Barrington, she lined a single up the middle, for the first hit by a girl in a varsity MSL game.
"It was crazy," Hernandez said. "It was really surreal. I kind of knew what to expect. It was senior night and usually senior night I knew I was starting. I was looking for a fastball and I got a ball I could hit and I did."
Hernandez, however, didn't back away from her dream and Wheeling made it happen. In her first three years, Hernandez, who had played travel softball growing up, has played for Wheeling's frosh-soph and JV baseball teams.
"When I came to high school, I wanted a different challenge," Hernandez said. "I was at a point where I was debating whether I should play softball or not. I decided to give baseball a chance in high school."
Hernandez, who also plays shooting guard on the basketball team, has made the most of the experience.
"A lot of people don't know I am playing baseball. Our school does," Hernandez said. "It's not a big deal. It is just another sport I play."
Wheeling coach Jason Wieder, who is responsible for the entire baseball program, said that he loves how Hernandez plays.
"She has been a part of our program all four years," Wieder said. "She has done a tremendous job for us. She is a great student-athlete, brilliant in the classroom. She was one of our best players in her freshman and sophomore years. She is very fundamentally sound."
Hernandez, who plays second base and is the backup catcher, has played behind other players most of the season. But that never discouraged her accruing to Wieder.
"She is always working hard," Wieder said. "She spends lots of time in the bullpen area with our pitchers, warming them up. The softball coaches have approached her. But we are not going to give her away."
Hernandez had batted seven times before the Barrington game. She was 0-3 with a walk and a couple of hit batters.
Wieder inserted her into the starting lineup against Barrington on senior day. Hernandez responded with a sharp single.
"It was great moment for her and for our program," Wieder said. "Delanee had earned every second of it."
That moment also wasn't lost on Barrington head coach Pat Wire, who has three daughters of his own. He immediately got the ball and gave it to Wieder so he could present it to Hernandez. A picture of Hernandez and Weider, with that magical ball, appeared on Twitter later that day.
Hernandez said her teammates have been encouraging all four years.
"The guys here are really welcoming," Hernandez said. "They are very nice. I couldn't ask for better teammates."
The past Monday, Hernandez got another opportunity to start in the Wildcats' last home game of the season. She batted twice, including coming up with the bases loaded. She lined out and on a shot up the middle and was retired and then came out of the game.
Sam Knox, who is an assistant director for the Illinois High School Association and is in charge of baseball, said that there are girls who play high school baseball in the state. But it is not a prevalent occurrence.
"She is the only one I am aware of," Knox said. "We ask schools to fill out a participation survey, Most schools do, but not all. We only know of girls playing baseball unless they tell us."
Knox said that Hernandez is not required to play softball because she is a girl.
"Technically, they are two different sports," Knox said. "They play by different rule books. If a girl wants to play baseball and she is willing to try out for the team and be on the baseball team, she certainly can do that."
Knox does play softball. But only in the summer when she plays catcher for her travel team, the Windy City Thunder.
That was the only time that Hernandez wanted to play softball according to her mother Alex.
"Delanee has wanted to play high school baseball since she was in seventh grade," Alex Hernandez said. "It is something she has always wanted but has been afraid that the boys wouldn't take her or that people would talk about her playing baseball instead of softball.
"We always encouraged her. We think it is awesome."
So do the boys of Wheeling.
"She brings an energy that is very infectious," Michael Del Genio said. "Everyone loves her on the team. It is a great experience having her with us."
AJ Marchetti, whose walk-off homer Monday against Streamwood gave the Wildcats a 6-5 win, said that he and his teammates feel that Delanee is just one of them.
"I think it is pretty cool," Marchetti said. "I know it is pretty rare. She is fun to have here, and I talk to her a lot. She can do all the things that the guys do."
Delanee Hernandez will be heading to the University of Connecticut in the fall. Delanee, who has a 4.3 GPA, will be majoring in physiology and neurobiology. She hopes to go to med school after to become a surgeon.
It's just Delanee going down her own path again.