Teammates elated to see King Felix rewarded
Mariners' ace is among the most popular players in clubhouse, community
PEORIA, Ariz. -- It's normally not a good thing when a team's best pitcher is missing as Spring Training workouts begin, but this wasn't a normal day for the Mariners or their ace, Felix Hernandez.
As pitchers and catchers took the field for the first time Wednesday at their Peoria Sports complex, Hernandez was 1,100 miles north at Safeco Field preparing to sign his new seven-year, $175 million contract.
And nobody was happier for Hernandez than the guys who went about their work while their teammate soaked up his rich reward.
"It just makes you happy," said veteran shortstop Brendan Ryan. "It's nice when good or great things happen to good people. I spend more time talking about him as a guy in the clubhouse and how he carries himself than anything else. He's just grounded. You don't talk about entitlement with him. There's a humility about him. He's earned it. He's 'The King' and we're just happy for him."
The Mariners appreciate what Hernandez has done for both their team and the city he's embraced since signing with Seattle as a teenager out of Venezuela in 2002, and they're thrilled he's cashing in with the largest contract for a pitcher in the history of baseball.
"It's awesome," said first baseman Justin Smoak. "Especially for a guy like him. First and foremost, he's the best pitcher in the league. And to be a great teammate as well and good to all the guys, this is something all the guys in this clubhouse and everybody in the organization are happy for."
Hernandez has become something more than just an All-Star pitcher for the Mariners. There's a reason the franchise dug deep to lock up the 26-year-old through at least 2019. Hernandez has been extremely loyal to the club, embracing the city and repeating every time he's been asked that he wants to remain a Mariner.
"The organization selected him a long time ago, but now you're talking about a couple times Felix has chosen to stay here, and now he's going to be here for a long time," said manager Eric Wedge. "I think it says a lot about his character and what Seattle and the Mariners mean to him.
"But it also says a lot about his belief in the direction this big league club and organization are going. He wants to win as much as anybody. We made sure he's been privy to everything we're doing here, and I think he appreciates that."
Hernandez clearly has become the face of the franchise, and it's a face usually adorned with a smile. Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said Hernandez has a unique ability to be extremely competitive without losing his child-like joy for the game.
"He has fun pitching like most of the guys have fun when they're in Little League, or maybe high school, when you're just that dominating guy," Willis said. "But he's a lot more studious than a lot of people are aware of. He pays attention. There's not a lot more you could ask for."
Actually, there are a few things Hernandez will be asked for this spring. He'll be given Thursday off as well before rejoining the club Friday and, rest assured, teammates will greet his return with open arms … and expectations of a little sharing of the wealth.
"I would certainly hope so," Ryan said with a laugh. "I'm looking forward to some hot lunches this spring."
But the Mariners players know better than anyone what comes along with the price of fame and fortune for a star like Hernandez. Not every athlete embraces the attention and demands that come along with the paycheck, but Hernandez has increasingly relished that role as he's gotten older.
"It takes a special personality to embrace those things and want to be that guy and be able to handle it," Ryan said. "There's a lot that goes with it. People are always tugging at your shirt and all that.
"You want to shake his parents' hands and tell them they did a good job. He gets it. He's got a good head on his shoulders and carries himself the right way. I don't think there's anything phony about him. What you see is what you get, and there's not enough of that around."
Wedge is all about winning games and knows that without results, Hernandez wouldn't be in this situation. But Wedge, too, is quick to note that his ace is more than just a talented arm.
"He does embrace what he means to the Seattle Mariners and the community and the greater Northwest," Wedge said. "That's not just about baseball. There's so much more than that involved. The time he gives to the community, the time he gives to the Mariners, just what he cares about and is important to him. I think all those things come into play when it comes to what Felix Hernandez means to us."