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Washington Nationals spring training: Livan Hernandez, 36, is in no rush to call it a career

After a busy offseason, the Nationals open spring training in Viera, Fla.

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Monday, February 21, 2011; 12:01 AM


Last August, Livan Hernandez walked up to Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo in a hotel lobby and handed him a slip of paper, the kind you find by the phone in your room. A number was written on it.

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"I play for that," Hernandez said.

Livan was having one of the best pitching seasons in the National League. FanGraphs statistical analysis estimated his '10 value to the Nats at $12 million. But he was unsigned for '11. Not for long.

"You've got a deal," Rizzo said.

The number written on the paper was $1 million.

"Livan's agent wanted to kill him," Rizzo said. But the handshake deal was honored, plus another $750,000 in incentive bonuses.

"That was the best contract I ever 'negotiated,' " Rizzo said.

However, the better you know Hernandez, the more you realize that it was a deal that delighted him, too, while showing how wonderfully unique he is. "No more, no less," Livan said of the scratch pad contract. "Very nice. I appreciate it. . . . It's the way I wanted to do it. It feels good. I can be my own agent. They've treated me well here."

Hernandez has made $50 million in his career. He already has the Lamborghini. What he wants, and deeply needs, is a true baseball home and a club that needs him. When he starts on opening day at Nationals Park, he'll do it in a town that, to him, symbolizes all the reasons he defected from Cuba in an open boat 14 years and 166 victories ago.

Few modern players have a sense of deep loyalty, even honor, in dealing with their teams. But Hernandez does. He knows who's done him wrong and also who's helped him up when he was down. Just 361 days ago, the Nats picked him up off the scrap heap when no other team would offer him any contract at all after a four-year span in which his ERA was 5.28.

The Nats' $900,000 minor league deal was his only lifeline to the sport that seems to fit his soul like an well-oiled old glove.

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