Felix Hernandez, right where he wants to be
By Shannon Drayer
Real quick, the contract details: The deal is indeed seven years for a guaranteed $175 million. There is an interesting stipulation that could allow the Mariners to get a year of Felix Hernandez for just $1 million. Jack Zduriencik said there was some protection in the language of the contract against a right elbow injury and there is indeed. The $175 million is guaranteed but should Felix miss 130 consecutive days on the DL in any 183 major league days due to any kind of right elbow surgery or procedure, then the club gets an option for 2020 at $1 million.
Both Zduriencik and Felix insist he is completely healthy, with Felix taking over when Zduriencik was asked what he would do to keep his ace healthy.
“He can’t keep me healthy,” said Felix. “I am the guy who keeps me healthy the way I work.”
Felix Hernandez made it clear Wednesday he’s right where he wants to be. (AP)
According to Howard Lincoln, the team is looking into different coverage it can get for the contract outside of life and disability. Whatever that turns out to be, it will not cover the full amount, however.
Finally, There is a full no-trade clause included in the contract, the first no-trade clause given by the club.
On to Felix.
So many questions have been asked about Felix’s motivation and intentions regarding what would happen when his current deal expired. He has never wavered on his desire to stay in Seattle, to stay with the Mariners. He’s never gone the other way, he has never issued a “I will let my agents handle that” or “I will address that when the season is over” or even a “no comment.” The answer has always been “I want to stay here.”
It would be hard for anyone who watched or listened to the press conference Wednesday to believe that Felix has ever been anything but genuine when expressing what he wanted for his future.
The emotion started before he even set foot in the interview room. He broke down while trying to address the assembled crowd of Mariners employees wearing “King’s Court” and “Long Live the King” T-shirts that surprised him, chanting “King! King! King!” and “Fe-lix! Fe-lix!” when he emerged from the elevator on his way to meet the media.
Over and over he thanked the crowd and told them that he loved them.
“I promise I will never change. I will never change!” He emphatically exclaimed.
If he thought he got his emotions out of the way after seeing so many familiar faces express their love and appreciation for him, he was wrong. Wearing a new custom made suit and diamond-stud earrings fit for a King and with his family near by, Felix couldn’t hold back. He held his composure for all of about 30 seconds. After getting through thank yous to the organization, the workers at Safeco Field, ownership, and his agents, he had to take a full 18 seconds to compose himself.
The floodgates opened then and the thank yous came faster with his voice shaking with emotion as he promised over and over not to disappoint anyone. It culminated with a heartfelt thank you to the people in his adopted home town.
“To the people of Seattle, to all the people of Seattle that trust and believe me, I am not going to disappoint anybody. I am going to do my very best,” he said.
“Seattle Mariners is going to be on the top. Believe me. I am not saying this because I am doing this (contract). I don’t care about this. I care about the people of the Seattle. I care because they always support me. I am doing this because I love this city, I want to stay in Seattle. I don’t want to go anyplace else. I love this place.”
He drove the point home punctuating the following words.
“This has been my life. This has been my family. Thank you so much. Believe me. I am going to go to spring training tomorrow and do my very best.”
To anyone who has ever been to a Mariners game and cheered for Felix Hernandez or sat cheering in King’s Court in a yellow shirt, he heard you.
The cynic would say that it shouldn’t be too hard to generate emotion with a check for $175 million sitting in front of you, and in reality perhaps this is the way someone who has just been given the biggest contract for a pitcher in the history of baseball should react, but how often do we see that?
Being a Mariner means something to Felix. Being embraced by the city of Seattle means something to Felix. Being wanted by the organization that knows him means something to Felix.
I am not going to say I know Felix. I know him as well as any member of the media, probably better than most, having established a relationship with him on day one for him in the major leagues. But what we know is what we see at the field and in the clubhouse. That is only part of the person.
What I do know is the reaction I see him get from those who indeed know him and it is clear they love this guy. To teammates, staff, coaches, front office and organizational people, he’s more than just their ace pitcher or teammate. He is more than just “the franchise.” Partly because they raised him in this game but I also believe because of who he is. He is the first one with a hug in the dugout. He is the one who starts a lot of the fun in the clubhouse. He is the one who says “yes” when something is needed in the community. He is the one who picks up the club and puts it on his shoulders when he can and never complains when the play around him comes nowhere near the caliber of his play.
He is the one who has never shown a hint of putting his numbers ahead of the team. He is the one who sets the example rather than “big leaguing” it even when it would be hard to fault him for doing so. He is the one who really hasn’t changed since he hit the big dollars and spotlight.
Toward the end of his day with the media, Felix came up for an interview with me in the broadcast booth. He wasn’t a bit weary. He wasn’t mailing it in after already doing multiple interviews in English and Spanish. He was still excited, still emotional, and willing to answer questions for as long as I needed him to. At one point during the interview he took over saying he wanted to be the reporter when he tried to explain why he didn’t want to go anywhere else.
“I’m going to ask you a question,” he said. “When you feel comfortable, when you feel good around people at your job and you feel good you can talk to everybody, you want to leave?”
It makes perfect sense to him. Yes, there might be better out there but he knows this is good for him. Why get greedy? If he had given even a hint of indecision, let alone flat out said he wanted to test free agency, there is a good chance he would have been traded. Most likely to a contender. He could have been closer to the postseason but he believes this team will win in the near future. He wants to be a part of that. In large part because loyalty is one of the qualities Felix most values.
This is a guy who has kept the same agents since he was 16. This is a guy who turned down his first chance at free agency to stay with the team that signed him. This is a guy who married his sweetheart from home. He knows what the playoffs and eventually a World Series would mean to the people in his organization and to the city. Just as he plays for his team and not his stats, he wants the postseason. But he wants it for these people as well. The people and the city he knows.
It means something to him. The money is important but he could have received that anywhere. The truth of the matter is he has been given more than money and lucky for Seattle, both the Mariners and the city, he is the rare superstar who appreciates that.
“We kept our own,” Jack Zduriencik declared. “He is ours.”
“This has been my life. This has been my family.” Felix said.
Seattle opened its arms to Felix. In return, he kept us.