20 years ago this April a pitcher took the hill in Seattle for the first time in his career. He stood at 6-10 and had a mullet that was almost as scary as his fastball coming at your head. With his 100 mph fastball and mr. snappy, this man, Randy Johnson, went on to become the winningest Mariner pitcher of all time.
Fast forward 15 years to August of 2005. A 19 year old pitcher took the hill in Detroit, making his major league debut for the Seattle Mariners. He had all the potential a pitcher could have. An explosive fastball that could reach triple digits. A hard curveball that would make your knees buckle just by watching on TV. A change-up that made even the best hitters look ridiculous. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Felix Hernandez.
Those first two months of Felix’s career were two I’ll never forget. With the Mariners out of the playoff race, Felix gave people a good reason to watch the Mariners. Although his record his 4-4 record didn’t indicate it, Felix dominated the American League those two months. He posted a 2.67 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 84 1/3 innings. Finally, Seattle had someone who captured their imagination like Jr. and A-Rod did when they came up from the minor leagues. With Felix now in the big leagues, every 5th day became a mini-celebration. Ussmariner and LookoutLanding called it “Happy Felix Day!”
But as often happens in sports, potential didn’t turn into automatic success. Although he showed many flashes of brilliance, Felix didn’t turn into the dominant ace many people thought he would be. In the 2006-2008 seasons Felix averaged 11.66 wins a year. Some people, myself included, thought he relied too much on his fastball and didn’t mix up his pitches enough.
Although he hadn’t turned into that dominant ace yet, King Felix was still a joy to watch. Every time he stepped on the mound something amazing could happen. You didn’t know if you’d get a performance like his amazing one-hitter in Boston in 2007 but the possibility of it happening made it worth watching. Through those seasons my favorite Venezuelan was growing up. And just like watching a family member grow up, watching the King grow was interesting, occasionally irritating, and always exciting. Because Seattle watched him grow, the city became more attached to him. A city that had grown weary of superstars, because of the loss of Junior, A-Rod, and the Big Unit, was ready to accept Felix. But a piece was missing, that one season that let the baseball world know that King Felix was a star. That is, it was missing until 2009.
In 2009 Felix was nothing short of amazing. He was the best pitcher in baseball aside from Zack Greinke. After 3 losses in May, Felix only had 2 losses the rest of the year. Our king finished the year with a 19-5 record, a 2.49 ERA, and 217 strikeouts in 238.2 innings pitched. Those are numbers of a true ace.
This off-season Felix was rewarded with a $78 million/5 year deal. But more than that, the city of Seattle was rewarded for falling for a superstar.
Today Felix threw his first bullpen session of the season. Hopefully our star is capable of having years like last year over and over again. I think he is. In my mind, I see the Mariners riding on King Felix’s back all the way to the playoffs and then possibly more. But if this doesn’t happen, it’s important to remember that at least Felix is here. Seattle has a star and this time he’s sticking around.