Growing up in Cuba, just 300 miles from Miami, Livan Hernandez managed to get his hands on videotapes of the 1992 and '93 World Series.
But watching a World Series game live on TV? Or listening on the radio? No way.
"I've never seen one," Hernandez said Thursday. "Not even dreaming."
That will change Saturday, when Hernandez looks in at his catcher, winds up and throws the first pitch of Game One. In a scenario literally beyond his wildest dreams, the 22-year-old rookie will start for the Florida Marlins against the Cleveland Indians.
Manager Jim Leyland announced the rest of the rotation Thursday: Kevin Brown, Al Leiter and Tony Saunders.
In Miami, the bandwagon is overflowing: all 65,000 seats have been sold for each home Series game.
The fans' enthusiasm took a deadly turn today. Two fans were hanging a "Go Marlins" banner on a downtown rail loop at 3:45 a.m. when an automated car struck and killed one, Metro-Dade police said. The electrified cars, which run quietly on rubber wheels, are directed from a control room and have no crew. The name of the dead man was not release; his companion has been charged with trespassing.
The new hero in Miami is Hernandez, the MVP in the National League championship series. He caused such a commotion walking into a Little Havana restaurant Wednesday that it took him four hours to eat lunch.
"I love all the fans," Hernandez said. "I hope they fill the stadium and yell a lot."
"He's a player of the people," 63-year-old Enrique Diaz said. "It helps to deal with the pain of exile. "It's a sign that Cuban baseball is alive."
"We have big hopes for that boy," said Sixto Perez, 53. "He's a rookie and that makes it even bigger."
Hernandez will be opposed by Cleveland's 39-year-old Orel Hershiser (14-6), who has a record of excellence in the postseason.
The Marlins have had to overcome a wave of illness and injuries, and the latter remain a concern.
Third baseman Bobby Bonilla, who left Tuesday's pennant-clinching victory in the eighth inning with a sore left hamstring, took batting practice Thursday but didn't field any ground balls. Bonilla has played despite chronic wrist and ankle injuries this season, but he said his latest ailment could keep him out of the lineup for the first two games in Miami.
"I'm going to battle it, but I'm not going to hurt the team in any way," he said. "If I have to miss the first two . . . that's what I'll do."
Outfielder Moises Alou injured a wrist against the Braves but has been able to come back and play.
There were raised eyebrows throughout baseball when the Marlins signed Hernandez, a Cuban defector with no professional experience, in January 1996 to a four-year contract guaranteeing him $4.5 million, with a $2.5 million signing bonus and an additional $1.5 million in incentive clauses.
Some of those eyebrows were raised even further when Hernandez struggled at the minor league level last season. Had the Marlins overpaid badly for an unproven young pitcher simply because the team was desperate to sign a player who could have such vast marketing appeal to the approximately 700,000 Cuban-Americans in Dade County?
Those fears, however, have been put to rest by the right-hander, who won his first nine decisions after being promoted to the major leagues in June. Leyland dropped the rookie from the rotation for the club's first-round playoff series against the San Francisco Giants, but Hernandez provided four innings of three-hit, one-run relief handiwork in Game Two. He then stole the spotlight in the NLCS. He got one win over the Atlanta Braves in relief and notched 15 strikeouts in a complete-game, three-hit, two-walk, one-run gem of a triumph in Game Five on Sunday.
Marlins officials stuck by him last year during his adjustment to life in America, which included falling prey to fast-food television advertisements that helped his weight to balloon by 20 pounds.
Hernandez, like the Marlins' decision-makers, can chuckle about last year's weight problems now. "I just arrived from Cuba," Hernandez said through an interpreter last month. "There was a lot of food, and I wanted to eat it."
Last season, Hernandez made only one appearance for the Marlins. He had a 9-2 record and a 4.34 earned run average for Class AA Portland (Maine) but went 2-4 with a 5.14 mark for Class AAA Charlotte. This year, he was 9-3 with a 3.18 ERA in his 17 regular season starts for the Marlins.