First came the American League Cy Young Award in 2010. Then, last year’s perfect game.
But KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel says nothing compares to the outpouring of emotion he witnessed this week at Safeco Field as the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez signed a contract that makes him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.
A different kind of emotion
Art says he's witnessed a lot of emotional highs and lows in his sports writing career. But...
"This was different. This was a celebration of a player and a team and a city coming together. And Felix is a guy who is not afraid to show his emotion."
Hernandez started crying when he entered the lobby of the Mariners front office and was confronted by staffers in yellow "King Felix" t-shirts who cheered his arrival.
Art says Hernandez also had to take several seconds to collect himself before addressing reporters after signing his contract.
"There were a lot of us crusty types in there who were quite moved by the genuine expression of passion for this guy in this town."
Here to stay
Felix signed a $175 million, seven-year contract. He said it was always his intention to stay in Seattle.
"Seattle is so cynical about players coming and going. All the evidence is that great players leave here. It's a weigh station, it's not a destination. Felix kept saying 'this is where I want to be.' He meant it. And the Mariners responded. They had to respond because this is a rare talent who wanted to be here for his career, and they wrote the check for it."
Face of the franchise
Art says Felix Hernandez is now officially the face of the Mariners. And that's something the team hasn't had in a while - even when Ichiro Suzuki was here, before he was traded to the Yankees last year.
"As good as Ichiro was, he wasn't embraced here. The connection wasn't there like it is with Felix. Or like it was with Edgar Martinez. Like it was with Ken Griffey, Jr. Those things are not statistically relevant but they're emotionally important because you wouldn't be a fan if you weren't emotional."
Art says Hernandez insisted on a "no trade clause" in his contract, because he wanted the rumors of his potential departure to end.
The contract also includes some insurance for the Mariners if Hernandez develops any trouble with his pitching arm. There were reports that issues with his elbow were delaying the finalization of his contract.
Art says that was more for insurance, and not for medical reasons.
"The Mariners' doctors and trainers said he's good to go. But he's got wear and tear. There have only been three other pitchers in Major League Baseball history who've thrown as many innings before age 27 as Felix: that is Bert Blyleven, Fernando Valenzuela and Dwight Gooden. So, Felix is at the outer edge of the physical limits of the human pitching arm."
Art says the Mariners are taking a big risk in signing Hernandez to seven more years - not knowing how he will hold up physically. But they had to do it.
"They're in such a deep ditch from a marketing and PR standpoint. This is strictly for the face of the franchise, for repairing the damage that was done and getting fans off the ownership's back. Those fans always said the Mariners never spend. Well, this time they spent. And they spent for a good guy pitching well."
You can read more of Art's comments about Felix and his new contract at Sportspress Northwest.