On January 20th, Felix Hernandez signed with the Atlanta Braves in a minor league deal. As was suspected, the King has departed from the team that drafted him and saw him put up elite numbers, leading to a Cy Young award and four all-star appearances.
This is a tribute to one of the best pitchers to ever wear a Seattle Mariners uniform and a player who should be one of the most beloved.
I will not be focusing on his stats or performance through the years, even though much could be written about his dominance on the mound. I would like to give a short tribute to the man who gave me and countless other fans something to cheer about in an otherwise bleak stretch of years for the M’s.
In a city like Seattle, to have an athlete be a part of shaping the culture in the city and creating a cult following takes someone special. That is what Felix Hernandez did for the city of Seattle. Every five home games, the left field corner at Safeco Field would turn to bright yellow as the chants for their king rang through the stadium. You could walk the streets of Seattle and ask strangers who their favorite player was on the Mariners, and even though they may not even be able to name the other teams in our division, they knew who King Felix was and they knew they loved cheering him on. At times (and by that, I mean most of the time) when there was not much else to cheer for, you felt like you could get excited about King Felix. He brought fans to the gates every summer, and through the good and bad, he was there, playing his heart out.
As far as his play on the field, the beginning of his career was legendary but dipped in the last few years. The fans in this city were justifiably quick to criticize, just as any avid fan would do, but I ask you to take a step back and be thankful for the person, not just the baseball player.
Felix stuck with Seattle. He was elite and a winner when the rest of his team was anything but. Through it all, he was outspoken about loving Seattle and this being his home. He could have requested a trade to a contender when he was in his prime, and no one would have blamed him. But he stayed home and played his butt off for his team every time he took the hill.
His loyalty is something that is not often seen in sports today, and something too many M’s fans took for granted far too often. It is sad to think that a generational talent like Hernandez was wasted on an organization that could not put the pieces together to surround him with a winning team. For a man who gave 14 years of his career to a failure of an organization and played for his fans year in and year out, we owe him more gratitude.
As his time, and subsequently his dominance, wound down over the last few years, it was easy to discard him as a waste of money and time for the organization. Opinions differ on what he has meant to the club the last three years, but one thing is hard to argue. He never stopped fighting. Even up to his last game in a Mariner’s uniform, with tears in his eyes, he played for his fans, and as he exited the game, he raised his hands and tipped his cap to who he had been playing for through all these years.
As we officially say goodbye to Felix Hernandez, I only ask you to remember everything he gave to this organization and this city. It may be a while until we see talent like this again pitching for the Mariners, but even longer before we see a player with as much dedication to a fanbase and an organization as Felix gave to Seattle.
Thank you, King Felix.