On his last start of the 2019 season — and likely last as a Seattle Mariner — Sunny Cadwallader and Jose Romero say gracias to the King, Felix Hernandez.
Everywhere you look it’s fall.
Football, fútbol are in full swing. Colleges welcome swarms of fans every weekend. Hockey and basketball are gearing up for their regular seasons next month.
Now, we often look at fall as an “end”. The end of summer, warm temperatures and vacations. Fall also can sometimes mark the end of a career.
I can remember tweeting those words many times over the course of Felix Hernandez’s career. He was our player. Our Mariner. He belonged to not only Seattle, but the entire Pacific Northwest region. He loved the spotlight, but he didn’t leave to chase after it elsewhere.
Felix Hernandez was ours and he was special.
Our co-founder, Jose Romero, covered Hernandez during his days in Seattle and most recently during spring training in Peoria, Arizona:
The arrival I always looked forward to at the many Mariners spring trainings I have covered since 2010 was that of King Felix. It was Ichiro in the beginning, but that was always a time-killing waiting game for us reporters! Felix would hold court — pun intended — for the various beat writers who would ask him how he feels, what’s new, is he ready for the season, etc., and it always in some way came out entertaining. Because that’s him.
One year he’d bleached his hair and goatee blonde. One year he had a new tattoo or two. Every year, the annual Felix arrives at spring training story was one of my first ones. And one year, 2013, he remained in Seattle to sign the huge contract the club rewarded him with, making him a Mariner for life, essentially.
There was a press conference in Seattle. He arrived in a stylish suit, and was greeted by what looked like the entire Mariners organization except the players, who cheered and applauded Hernandez as he walked into Safeco Field and on to his official signing.
Felix wiped tears from his eyes. What a journey for him to get to that point.
It was a special day. It cemented King Felix’s status as one of the top five most beloved sports figures in the city’s history. Because Felix could have gone elsewhere. He could have forced a trade. He could have left for a shot at a World Series ring.
He didn’t. He chose the feeling of home and family. I respected it.
King Felix, as he was called, is a passionate power pitcher. I say “is” because he never wavered from that. He was the king who could dominate hitters like some of the best of the past few decades.
We felt every pitch. Every strike-out (“K”). Every squeezed strike zone (really, ump?). M’s vs Yankees? Felix is pitching? Yeah, I’ll take that bet.
The young Venezuelan became must-see action. The Mariners even created a special “King’s Court” section of (then) Safeco Field full of yellow-shirted fans clutching their yellow “K” cards like it was the very last Christmas gift under the tree.
And that’s what Hernandez did for many years. He gave Mariners fans a gift of his talent and passion for the game.
He gave it all he had until he couldn’t anymore — at King Felix levels.
The Seattle Times’ Ryan Divish details the various “acts” of Hernandez’s Mariner career. As he outlined the decline of the “King,” Divish put the end of Felix’s act in sobering terms:
The realization of a player’s baseball mortality finds them at different times, and it can leave them feeling forlorn.
Seeing a young Latino succeed isn’t unusual, especially in baseball. But, for an organization that saw so many stars and current/future Hall of Famers leave, Hernandez’s success was especially satisfying for this Latina.
And Hernandez married that with his love for baseball perfectly.
His decline, however, has been painful. Mariners fans were spoiled by his early success.
Hernandez didn’t want to admit the decline. We didn’t want to admit he was declining. Felix and declining were never words fans wanted to pair together.
We wanted the dominant Felix who threw that perfect game in Twitter’s early years. He was the talk of Twitter that day. And his iconic celebration…
But, decline he has…and did.
“King Felix” will pitch one more time in a Seattle Mariners uniform this Thursday. Who knows if he will pitch in the major leagues next year. That seems quite remote given his current 6.51 ERA and 1-7 record.
That won’t stop Mariners fans, however. T-Mobile park will be painted in swatches of yellow with t-shirts and “thanks” cards. I’m sure there will be a few stray “K” cards too.
Tear-stained “K” cards at T-Mobile.
And a few more at home, too.
He (still) is ours!
*photos by Evan Habeeb and Jose Romero