It's not working.
I knew something was wrong when Felix started the game rough last night, but I was thinking more along the lines of off day than arm injury. I got wide-eyed when I saw Felix signal for the trainer, and as he walked off the field to one of the most uneasy ovations I've ever heard, my cold empty heart sank to the ground. I haven't been able to smile since. For the past 13 hours or so, the happiest I've felt in any given moment could be best described by an observer as "currently doesn't want to jump off a building." But those are just fleeting moments of pleasure in a suicidal existence.
Felix is no ordinary pitcher, and he carries no ordinary load of pressure or expectation on his back. After last week, people everywhere began to notice what he means to this ballclub, which is why it's funny in a sick kind of way that this happened just after ESPN started cranking its hype machine. I went to class this morning and a handful of people tried to comfort me and tell me that everything's going to be all right in the end. Bear in mind that I live in Connecticut. You think this happens if it's Jarrod Washburn walking off the mound in the first? Ho Ramirez? If it were Jeff Weaver, it might even be funny, but seeing this happen to Felix is no laughing matter for anyone involved. There's no pointing fingers or teasing or taunting; the entire baseball world is united in a collective state of concern. If you didn't appreciate before just how special Felix really is, you probably do now.
I can't really explain how much he means to us, the people who've invested so much blood, sweat and tears into following the Mariners through some of the darkest years of their existence. Felix is our distant light in the tunnel. When the team fell flat on its face in 2004, when pitching prospect after pitching prospect turned into a colossal bust, when Bavasi dealt away two of our favorite players for expensive pieces of crap, all along we were able to pull through, because no matter what happened to the roster's periphery, we still had Felix, and that was enough to keep us interested. It's no coincidence that "We have Felix and you can't have him" became something of a rallying cry. He is the Mariners. He is the spectacle. He's the guy who's supposed to make everything all right and become the official face of the franchise in case Ichiro takes off for greener pastures. The team needs him now more than they've ever needed a player before, and while things were looking up as recently as one week ago, now the picture's much less clear.
At this point, we don't know anything about Felix's injury, other than the fact that his elbow was tight enough to force him out of a game. It could be nothing. It could be the kind of thing that you worry about for a day or two until you wake up feeling great and get right back to what you were doing. If that turns out to be the case, then I can't help but think that this is some kind of reminder from above that we need to appreciate what we have, because it can be gone in a flash. The universe has a cruel sense of humor, but if Felix turns out to be fine, I suggest that everybody laugh at the joke, because I don't want to make it angrier.
At the same time, though, "right elbow tightness" is terrifying. Nothing good ever begins with "right elbow tightness." If this is serious, and Felix has to go away for a while, I don't know what I'm going to do. I don't know what any of us are going to do. Our season rests in the balance, and without Felix, we don't have a chance. What do you do? Call it quits? Give up? What's the proper fan etiquette for dealing with something of such potential severity so early in the season? Without Felix, not only is this a bad team, but it's a boring bad team, the kind we thought we put behind us in October 2004. That's not a team I want to watch, not for another five and a half months. On any given day, during any given blowout, we've been able to say "well at least Felix is pitching soon," and that's been enough. What if we can't do that anymore?
I've always been pretty good about laughing off Mariner-related misery. The team's been a joke for the past few years, but I've been able to enjoy it, because if you can't laugh at yourself, you've got nothing. But this, this shakes and frightens me to the core. Last Wednesday, Felix reminded me why I've firmly preserved my loyalty to this organization for so long. As far as my heart's concerned, last Wednesday Felix became the Mariners, and everything good about them, and every reason why they'd be fun to watch for the next several years. I was ready to sit in the passenger seat while Felix took me for a wonderful ride.
And now, I don't know. I'm a Mariners fan first, but without Felix, I don't know how strong that attachment can be. I don't know how long I can watch a rotation led by Jarrod Washburn and keep telling myself that it's worth it. At some point you just have to recognize when something isn't paying off and cut your losses. It's an awful, awful situation, but I'm not about to deny that a serious Felix injury would make me question how I'm living my life.
I hope I'm overreacting. I hope we all are, that this turns out to be nothing and Felix is right back on track in a week or two. There's nothing quite like learning a lesson without actually losing anything tangible. Hell, we may even be better off because of it.
But I'll tell you one thing - this is a bad day to be a natural pessimist.