- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Erick Fernandez grew up in Miami, watching the Florida Marlins and hoping to play in the major leagues.

Last year, after a strong junior season as a catcher at Georgetown, he had an opportunity to get started on making his dream a reality when the Washington Nationals drafted him in the 46th round.

Fernandez was excited about the chance to sign with the Nationals, a team he had begun to cheer for during his time at Georgetown. He was familiar with Washington’s players and particularly eager to play with some big names.

“[Stephen] Strasburg got picked up as a pitcher, and to catch him would have been nice,” Fernandez said. “I started liking them more. I started to appreciate the team and the organization.”

But Fernandez ultimately turned down a contract, opting to complete his final year of school. Now that he has graduated, he hopes to hear his name called in this year’s draft and begin pursuing a pro career.

His decision to return to Georgetown was influenced largely by his parents and his teammates.

“A lot of it was that I wanted to graduate. It was my dream and my parents’ dream to graduate from university,” he said. “I also wanted to stay with my teammates and graduate with the players I came up with. Even though pro ball has always been what I wanted to do, I needed time. Hopefully somewhere along the road, but it wasn’t time for me to go yet.

“I put things in perspective. I wanted a degree, and I only needed one more year. So a lot of it was motivation from my parents. It’s what they always wanted me to do. I decided to stay at Georgetown for them and for myself as well.”

What attracted Fernandez to Georgetown was the opportunity to play baseball while receiving an education at an elite university.

“I had a few schools looking at me. One thing that made me decide to go to Georgetown was that it was a prestigious university,” he said. “All the hard work I did in high school and all the dedication — my parents made me go through with getting good grades. I saw myself as prepared to come in and contribute to the team right away, and I felt that it was a great opportunity for me. Once I got here, I felt it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”

Fernandez made an immediate impact, hitting .307 his freshman year and starting 40 games. But during his sophomore year, he took his play to another level. In addition to leading the team with a .349 average, he began his transition from infielder to catcher.

“Our team needed a catcher,” he explained. “I saw an opportunity to help the team out behind the plate. I wanted to see how it was, and I practiced a lot for it. And it paid off. Coach gave me an opportunity to develop those skills.”

There was no special secret to his transition except plenty of practice.

“When you start practicing and dedicating the time, you get better,” Fernandez said. “It’s like anything in life. The more you stick to it, the more you get better. That’s another thing I have to be thankful for — the opportunity that the coaching staff gave me.”

In his junior year, Fernandez remained a force at the plate and turned himself into an elite defensive player. He threw out 23 of 63 attempted base stealers last season and batted .317. Those statistics helped him become the second Hoya selected in the 2010 draft and the 10th in Georgetown history.

Hoyas coach Pete Wilk said he did not directly influence Fernandez’s decision about whether to take the Nationals’ offer.

“To me, that’s a family decision,” Wilk said. “If they want our help, they’re more than welcome to ask us questions. Erick did so early on in the process. We want him to come back. However, we also want what’s best for the young man.

“If he went in the higher rounds — somewhere in the seventh, eighth, ninth, 10th, somewhere in there, where people were talking to him about, I think it would have been interesting. But going in the 46th round, getting $1,000 does not make sense when you have a Georgetown education to come back to.”

During his senior season, Fernandez batted .315 and threw out 21 of 56 runners attempting to steal.

“He’s been a leader on the field this year,” Wilk said. “His position kind of lent itself to that. He’s grown into that role this year really well.”

Fernandez has fulfilled his goal of earning a diploma, graduating with a major in political economy and a minor in sociology. He is preparing for the draft that starts Monday night with the hope that he will have another chance to chase his childhood ambition.

“Hopefully, I get the same opportunity as I did last year. I would like to go as early as possible — that would obviously be great. But I just want to see my name get called again. It’ll be rewarding because it was worth it to graduate from this university knowing that I would have the opportunity [to get drafted] again.”

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