Félix’s finale proves nothing compares to his bond with Mariners fans
Sep 27, 2019, 12:22 AM | Updated: 2:30 am
In the history of the Mariners franchise, there is no one else like Félix Hernández.
That was made abundantly clear on Thursday night when he made what is believed to be his last start in a Mariners uniform. And there truly is no comparison to the scene that was that game nor the mutual admiration that was shown between the King and his Court.
Félix’s 15 years with the team, the longest tenure of any player currently on Seattle’s roster, had a lot of ups.
Six All-Star nominations, the franchise’s second Cy Young Award, the city’s only perfect game.
But for all those ups, there were even more downs.
The Mariners never made the playoffs with Félix. His dominant period was wasted by dismal run support and lackluster supporting casts. And when the Mariners did have shots at the postseason in 2016 and 2018, they didn’t have the same Félix. He had lost zip on his fastball. The league knew how to lay off his knockout pitches. And that was when he was healthy, which wasn’t always the case over the past four seasons.
The story of Félix Hernández and the Seattle Mariners is ultimately one of heartbreak, which may be why even though the Mariners have had players who made a bigger impact on the franchise’s history, there’s something different – not necessarily better, just different – about the bond he has with Seattle.
Sure, Mariners fans loved the Kid. And Edgar. And Bone. And Randy. And Ichiro.
But there was a different kind of love on display Thursday night at the corner of Edgar and Dave. Because Félix’s story is so different than those of the other icons in the team’s history.
Félix was a phenom like Ken Griffey Jr. He stayed in Seattle when he could have left, just like Edgar Martinez. He dominated on the mound like Randy Johnson.
But unlike Griffey, who was something of a pop culture idol, Félix belonged exclusively to Seattle. Unlike Martinez, he was an engaging personality and a born showman. Unlike Johnson, his game wasn’t about intimidation but instead about fun.
And then there’s the fact that Félix came to Seattle as a fresh-faced 19-year-old fireballer. He was just a kid in 2005, maybe even more so than Griffey was when he debuted in 1989. It’s like Seattle felt protective of Félix in a way, almost like he was the city’s adopted son. And it was something he embraced, too.
Félix was looking for a home, and he found it with the Seattle Mariners. Baseball experts may have decided it was a foregone conclusion that the blossoming King would want to pitch for the Yankees at his first opportunity to bolt from Seattle, but it never even came close to that. Instead, he twice signed long-term deals to stay in Seattle. If he was going to chase the postseason, he was going to do it with the only team he had ever known.
I don’t think Mariners fans will ever forget that choice that he made. After sitting through the trades of Griffey and Johnson and the perceived betrayal of Alex Rodriguez, the Seattle fan base appreciated that Félix stayed here. He had decided he was one of them. And so had they.
So when Félix took the mound for his 418th and most likely last start in a Mariners uniform Thursday night against the Oakland A’s, the King’s Court filled up like maybe it never had before to share just a few more moments with him. And boy, were there moments. They were inescapable, whether it was when he first walked out to the mound to start the game, or when he pointed to his cheering section after a strikeout, or his emotional final walk back to the dugout after 5 1/3 innings of three-run ball. And then perhaps the most memorable moment was after the game ended and he walked out to the King’s Court – taking pictures, smiling, crying, even getting kissed by fans.
Hail to the King, baby. 👑 pic.twitter.com/OLZQrf6ty8
— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) September 27, 2019
It didn’t matter that he entered the game with a 6.51 ERA on the year, or that the last time he was unquestionably an ace was in 2015, or that injury and inconsistency had plagued him for four seasons running. All that mattered was that the fans remembered what he had done for the Mariners and for Seattle by being the one shining light on so many bad teams. Because they know he deserved better during his prime, and because they know how far he has fallen since that prime. It’s a song we’ve all heard – love hurts. And this was most certainly love.
For 15 years, Félix Hernández was the thing Mariners fans could hold onto. The team may not be good, but we can still watch Félix. Next year, that won’t be the case. Seattle is full-go in its “reimagination,” and a 33-year-old former Cy Young Award winner with a 6-plus ERA and miles upon miles on his arm doesn’t fit into those plans.
It’s a bit scary. In 2020, it will truly be jumping into the unknown.
After Thursday night’s game, Félix answered questions from the media about how the night felt, his legacy in Seattle, and his future in Major League Baseball. And when the questions eventually dried up, he had one of his own.
“You guys are going to miss me, huh?”
There’s no doubt about that, Félix.