By David Adams
MIAMI (Reuters) - Before Miami Marlins ace Jose Fernandez takes the mound Friday night seeking to make pitching history, his pre-game ritual will involve a trip to the barbershop.
Not just any barber, however. Fernandez will visit Hugo "Juice" Tandron, the heavily tattooed son of Cuban exiles who operates Major League Baseball's only private stadium barbershop out of a converted storage room at Marlins Park.
There is no set price to sit for a cut from Tandron, but business - and the tips - are good. A bald man with a long black beard, Tandron has such a steady stream of players, their relatives and team staff as clients that he is open six hours ahead of each home game and makes house calls during the off-season.
"He's family," said second baseman Dee "Flash Jr." Gordon, who recently had Tandron add a lightning bolt to the side of his head.
Tandron was plucked from obscurity by the Marlins thanks to a mixture of hard work, an affable street cred and talent. His motto is, "no two cuts are the same," and his reputation is for unique and meticulous hair styling.
Some of the game's legends, including Reggie Jackson and Andre Dawson, as well as former Atlanta Braves' pitchers Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, are among those who have sought out Tandron, 45, for a trim.
Last year during the play-offs, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Carl Crawford flew Tandron first class to California.
"He put me up at the W (hotel), for one cut," said Tandron
The success may seem unlikely for a man who recounts a youthful predilection for fighting and a series of run-ins with police.
He credits his beautician mother, and his early interest in her clippers, with straightening him out.
At first he cut hair for beer and cigarettes before setting up a makeshift shop in the laundry room of his home, with a 13-inch TV and rap recordings to entertain clients.
He said his big break came in 1993 when a rapper friend directed Marlins slugger Gary Sheffield to Tandron's barbershop in Carol City, one of north Miami's roughest neighborhoods. Soon other players came calling, and he started doing clubhouse visits.
In 2001 he opened his own shop, Headz Up, where he spends mornings before driving over to the stadium on game days.
When the Marlins moved to a new $500 million stadium in 2012, some of the players pressed the team to reserve a space for Tandron. While other teams may occasionally invite barbers in, Tandron's is the only ballpark shop, players and team officials say.
The windowless space has room for one chair. Scribbled on a "Wall of Fame" are hand-written messages from clients, including actor Antonio Banderas and rapper Lil' Jon.
Clients pay what they see fit. Former Marlins pitcher Dontrelle Willis bought Tandron a 1974 Chevy Caprice convertible, for $21,000.
"He made me cry. That was a dream come true," the barber said.
Tandron says his clients open up to him about their private lives. But don't ask him to divulge any secrets.
"What's said in a barber's shop stays in a barber's shop," he said.
His roster of clients one afternoon this week included Gordon, All-Star outfielder Giancarlo Stanton and closer A.J. Ramos, as well as some visiting Philadelphia Phillies.
Fernandez, 23, was there, too, getting a trim and already thinking ahead to his hopes of breaking a Major League Baseball record for the most home wins without a loss to start a career. The current mark has stood since 1914.
"Friday, you gotta be here," Fernandez whispered as Tandron leaned over him in the chair putting the finishing touches with a razor to his twice weekly trim.
His barber was quick to reassure him.
"When have I ever failed you?" Tandron said.
(Reporting by David Adams; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Andrew Hay)