Bronx tattoo artist Keith Hernandez has sports running through his veins, he was even named after one of the Mets top players. Growing up, he believed that he was going to make it big in the major leagues however, as fate would have it, tattooing became his trade and passion. But that doesn't mean that he's put his love for the game behind him. Over the course of his career, Hernandez has tattooed some of the top athletes from baseball, basketball, football and even racing. We had the opportunity to catch up with the New York City artist to learn how all of these elite athletes found their way into his chair and which player sits the best for their tattoos.
When did you first develop an interest an interest in sports and who were your sports idols growing up?
Hernandez: Sports has been with me all of my life. As a kid, I thought that I was going to be into sports more than anything else. I thought that I was going to be a baseball player, I didn't think that I was going to jump into tattooing. Since I was like five or six, I've been watching baseball, basketball and football.
Who was the first athlete you tattooed and how did they find themselves in your chair?
I believe that the first athlete that I tattooed was at my former shop in the Bronx and it was Robert Ayers Jr. He was a defensive lineman for the New York Giants at the time and I'm not sure what team he's playing for now. But that's the team he was playing for at the moment.
Approximately, how many NFL, NBA, MLB, and NHL athletes do you think you’ve tattooed in your career so far?
Maybe just a handful. But I do have a list of basketball and football players that I've tattooed. I also tattoo singers and other celebrities as well.
What about your tattoo style or your personality do you think attracts elite athletes?
With my tattoo style, I have a high contrast and a lot of negatives that I use in my tattoos. I feel like with time, black-and-grey work is really cool, but if you keep the tones so close and so simple, when it heals the tones fade into each other. So I keep a high contrast for a lot of negatives and I feel that with time, when it heals, it looks better. Because it stays really black and the negatives are the skin tone, so it works perfect.
Out of all the athletes that you’ve tattooed, what have been some of your most memorable experiences with them?
One of my favorite players growing up was Brandon Marshall, he played for the Jets. But I ended up tattooing him when he played for the Giants. It was cool because I wanted to tell him that he was one of my favorite players growing up but I wanted to keep it professional. I told myself that I would tell him later, but I ended up saying "It's crazy how I grew up being one of your fans and now I'm tattooing you." It was a cool experience to know that I could do that.
Which athletes sat the best and which sat the worst for a tattoo?
I have soft hands, so they all sit good. But I guess maybe Brad Wing, he sat the whole time. Maybe Lewis Hamilton, I tattooed him on the back of his calf and that area sucks. But he sat like a G and took it the whole time. They all sit pretty well, that's one thing I don't have a problem with. I've tattooed myself so I know how much it hurts and I try to keep it as soft as I can.
Have you tattooed any athletes outside of a tattoo shop and do you make house calls?
When I first started tattooing I did a lot of house calls and tattooed people outside of the shop or in hotels. But the thing that I don't like about that is the comfort. You don't feel comfortable because you're used to setting up a certain way. I also hate doing house calls because I would do them and I would forget one thing, like the plug to the tattoo machine or the ink. Then that would ruin the whole tattoo. Even if you went home and go it, after you probably wouldn't be in the mood to tattoo.
Who’s on your bucket list to tattoo and have you crossed off any of your heroes on that list?
I have a list of people that I have to tattoo. I want to tattoo Marc Anthony, he's not an athlete but he was one of my biggest idols growing up. I also want to tattoo Miguel Cotto, he's a boxer and as gotten a lot of tattoos over the years. I used to watch him every Friday and he'd have a new one. I was like "Damn, one day I've got to tattoo him." Now I'm working on the New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard and he reached out to me recently, so I'm hoping to get him in the chair soon. That would be cool because I'm a diehard Mets fan.
And you were named after a Mets player, isn't that right?
Yeah, I was named after Keith Hernandez. He played for the Mets in the eighties and my father is a huge Mets fan. So he named me after him and later on in the year, the Mets won the World Series. I was born in September and I believe that they won in October. I like to brag about that, but a lot of people don't know about Keith Hernandez anymore.
Are there any challenges working on clients who professional athletes?
I think that the only thing that makes it kind of hard with athletes or clients in general, is that they want things that won't work with their skin tone or some people will see a tattoo and say "I want that." I like to do tattoos individually for the person and I like everyone to have their own tattoo.
What else do you want audiences to know about your work?
I feel like people need to know that tattooing celebrities is cool, but tattooing a 9-to-5 person is also cool. At the end of the day, someone is trusting me with their skin for the rest of their life and you always want to do your best because that's going to represent you.
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