Hernandez’s heart was in sports — but it almost broke him

By Stephen Tobey - Correspondent

C-C coach is back on the field after health struggle

Mark Hernandez is a busy man. He kind of likes it that way.

Hernandez is in charge of security at Concord- Carlisle High School. He’s the head baseball coach there and he is also an assistant football coach at the school.

If that’s not enough, he runs the Medfield- based MetroWest Thunder softball program. Most importantly, he’s the father of a 4-year-old son.

Coaching has been a passion for just about his entire adult life.

“I just really like interacting with the kids,” he said. “I relate well with them. There’s nothing like walking on the field and working with them.”

Two incidents earlier this year almost put an end to it all.

On Feb. 22, Hernandez suffered a heart attack. In May, he was hospitalized with Covid.

The heart attack happened when he arrived at Sluggers Academy to work with his MetroWest Thunder program.

“I woke up feeling sick and I drove to Medfield,” Hernandez said. “When I got into Sluggers, my assistant coach could tell I wasn’t doing well and called 911.

“The heart attack was brought on by high blood pressure. I had to learn to take it easy.”

A few months later, while Hernandez was rehabbing from the heart attack, he caught Covid. “I have asthma, but this felt a lot worse,” he said. “I was in the hospital intubated for two days. It took about two weeks before I could really come back.”

That was in May, in the middle of the baseball season. Because of the heart attack, he could not do some of the more physical duties involved in coaching such as hitting fungoes but he was otherwise fully involved in running the program.

During the two weeks he was recovering from Covid, assistant coaches Bobby Abare and Tony Dykstra ran the team. Now, he’s fully recovered from Covid and continuing to rehab from the heart attack.

“I’ve lost a few pounds,” he said. “I don’t go out for the Meat Lover’s pizza so much. I eat better. I get more sleep. I’ve taken a Zoom class through UMass to learn deep breathing and relaxation techniques.”

Stress, particularly the stress of dealing with a serious illness in his family in his native Michigan, was a factor in the heart attack, he said.

“It was high blood pressure,” he said. “I’ve had to learn to take it easy.” While the desire to get back to coaching motivates Hernandez to improve his health, he has a bigger motivation. “It was a wakeup call,” he said. “My son was the biggest motivation.”

Hernandez grew up in Detroit and after graduating from the University of Toledo, he worked as a police officer for eight years and also worked as a corrections officer. He played some
independent league professional baseball, but doesn’t talk about his playing days much.

“I’ve never wanted to be one of those ‘when I played’ kind of coaches,” he said. “That doesn’t really matter to the kids. What matters is if you care and how you relate to them. They can tell if you’re faking it.”

Hernandez arrived in the Boston area in 2001. He coached at Needham and Holliston. He’s been coaching and working at Concord-Carlisle for nine years. He started as an assistant baseball coach, then became the head coach. Last year, he joined C-C;s football staff.

“Josh (Reed, C-C’s head football coach) and I started about the same time,” Hernandez said. “We had cafeteria duty at the same time and we became good friends. I’d been coaching football for more than 20 years. HIs first year (as head coach) was the Covid year when football was in the spring. The next year, I had a chance to be an assistant coach on his staff and it’s a lot of fun coaching with such a good friend.”

Coaching baseball is quite a bit different than football, however.

“In football, I can take guys on defense and move them around where I need them,” he said. “I can’t do that as much in baseball.”

Hernandez’s most successful season with C-C was 2021, when the Patriots won their first two games of the MIAA Division 2 North tournament, knocking off traditional powers Tewksbury and Arlington. C-C lost in the third round of the tournament to eventual state champion St. Mary’s of Lynn.

By its very nature, Hernandez said, baseball is a game that’s always going to have its ups and downs.

“There’s a sign in my office that says ‘Baseball is a perfectly beautiful game designed to break your heart,” he said.

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