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Thinking About The Felix Situation - Part 1 (Emotion)

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Apologies ahead of time if I kind of bounce around between points or leave some things out. I haven't planned this post. I feel like, if you're going to write a post centered on pure emotion, as little of it should be pre-meditated as is possible, so I'm just going to sit here, type, and see what happens. I already know where I want to end up. I just don't know how I'm going to get there. Onward!

So here we are, and we're facing a difficult situation. A situation I don't think any of us are realistically prepared to deal with. Felix's agent and the Mariners are going to sit down and talk extension here sometime soon, and while the King remains under team control for another two years, one gets the sense that, if the two sides can't work something out, Felix is going to find himself on the market. There's obviously no guarantee, and the team could elect to keep him around anyway, but the responsible thing to do would be to check out the offers, and the minute Zduriencik fields a proposal is the minute a Felix Hernandez trade becomes a possibility.

Forget everything that happened up to this point. Yeah, the previous regime blew it. Bill Bavasi's been gone a year and a half and he's still fucking things up. But that's a different subject. Believe me, we'll tackle that subject should it become relevant. But that's a separate post. This one's just about the emotional clouds that my brain slams together whenever it starts to think about what this particular future could have in store.

I started blogging about the Mariners late in 2003. Something like a week before Bavasi was hired. The front office screwed things up. The team was terrible. The M's were out of the race like two weeks in and by midseason the only things I really and truly cared about were Ichiro's record pursuit, Justin Leone's debut, and the minor league performance of some kid named Felix Hernandez. I'd always been cautious of pitching prospects before, perfectly aware of the risks, but...maybe it was just because the team sucked and I needed something to hope for in the future, but when the guys over at USS Mariner started referring to him as King Felix and updated everyone on his progress, I bought in. 100%. If Felix Hernandez were a pool, I dove in headfirst and tried to hold my breath because the air was full of bees.

2005 came along. The front office screwed things up. The team was terrible. The M's took a little longer to drop out of the race but sure enough they disappeared and by midseason the only thing I cared about was the Major League debut of King Felix. He came up in early August for a day game start against the Tigers, and I remember exactly what I did - I was at work in a fruit fly lab, but I told my boss what was happening and he let me use his computer. I booted up, loaded the game, and watched the outfielders mill around without any audio from a closed circuit camera somewhere in the stands behind first base. The game wasn't actually being broadcast on television, so all anyone got to see was distant footage of Felix from a really bad angle. It was amazing.

Over the next two months, Felix would set the tone of the dialogue for the next three years. He closed out 2005 pitching as well as anybody in baseball and then spent a few seasons trying to get back to the guy that he was. From 2006 to 2008, Felix was the topic. Ichiro was still the icon and face of the franchise, but Felix was the guy everyone wanted to talk about. He was talented. Look at how talented he is! He was good. Look at how good he is! He wasn't great. Why wasn't he great? Hey Felix, be great.

Be great. It's all we ever wanted, and though many of us were plagued with impatience, in our defense, Felix was the one who decided to have that debut. It'd be one thing for Felix to have come up and struggled to harness his stuff from the get-go. But for his first two months, he was extraordinary, and it became a community project to try like hell to figure him out and get him fixed. Throw fewer fastballs. Throw fewer predictable fastballs. Use more of your slider. Use more of your changeup. Although it sounds silly, "bendy stuff!" wouldn't be an expression were it not for Felix Hernandez.

Every month brought a new reason to be optimistic and a new reason to be frustrated. We all saw the glimpses. I got one particular glimpse in person. I was there when Felix one-hit the Red Sox. Fuji TV interviewed me in the seats after the game about the Ichiro/Matsuzaka matchup and all I could talk about was Felix. I ran across half the city to get back home and it was the most invigorating run of my life. We saw Felix one-hit the Red Sox. We saw him dominate the A's. We heard him give credit to a couple blog guys after tossing a shutout. Everyone was kind of irritated that Felix hadn't yet turned into the phenom we expected, but he managed to provide enough flashes of brilliance to keep the conversation positive. It was never about being mad or annoyed. Everything about Felix - everything was hope.

And that's what he represented. For all of us. Half the reason we spent so much time talking about Felix was because he was so good, but the other half was because our team was run by a pyramid of monkeys on a surfboard and Felix was pretty much the only thing that made us feel safe and warm and a little like normal baseball fans instead of sarcastic and sullen ones. Felix was our reason to watch. I mean that. At times, he was literally our only reason to watch. When he got hurt and missed a few weeks last year - those were the emptiest weeks of baseball I've ever experienced. Anyone who stuck around for the same thing knows what I'm talking about. It was easy to take Felix's presence for granted, and though his handful of injury scares helped keep us honest a little bit, you couldn't know how dark and joyless this team would be without him until you had to experience it.

This team embarked on a fluky run at the playoffs in 2007, but outside of that month or two where we really believed, it was pretty much all Felix, all the time. Baseball is entertainment, and Felix was the guy we turned to in order to be entertained. Not because we knew he'd pitch well. If anything, the odds in any given start were that he'd probably do something stupid that got on our nerves. But because every single start of his had the potential to be a start we'd remember our entire lives. I'm never going to forget seeing him against Boston. I'm never going to forget seeing him against Oakland. And every time he took the bump and got ready to throw his first pitch of the game, it was in our heads that, hey, this could be another one of those. Or maybe something better. Every start had a chance of making history, and every start had a chance of kicking off the prime of Felix's career.

Felix's was the first Mariner jersey for which I selected a specific name. I own a bunch of Mariner jerseys. One says Ichiro, and that was by chance. One says Griffey, and that was by chance. I recently rummaged through a bag of old shit from the rafters, and one of them apparently says Moose for some reason. Two of them are blank. I chose Felix not because I already had an Ichiro, but because Felix was my guy. Felix was my favorite Mariner, Felix was the most exciting Mariner, and since jersey buying is a tricky practice, Felix was the Mariner I most wanted to stick around forever.

Really, given how often we talked about Felix, and how often we thought about Felix, and how often we looked forward to watching Felix, he's gone beyond being a baseball player to the point at which it's almost like he's family. I don't know if he's more like a son or a brother or an actor cousin you follow in the movies but never actually get to hang out with because he's so busy all the time, but the bond isn't the same sort of fan/player connection you see with anyone else. I hate using this word because it sounds retarded if you don't use it just right, but the bond between Mariner fans and Felix is a special one, one that I'm not sure you can understand if you don't share it yourself. When people come up to me and ask how the M's have been doing, I immediately start talking about Felix the way a father reaches for his wallet to show off pictures of his kids. And I know I'm not the only one. Speaking for myself, Felix only barely knows who I am, and I'd still be happy to do his chores.

2009 saw Felix finally ascend to the throne that we'd built for him. It was hope fulfilled. Everything he'd done, everything we'd said, every last experience up until now only led to this, the season in which Felix put himself together and set forth on a personal blitzkrieg of opponents. We've been through the disappointment of Clint Nageotte. We've been through the disappointment of Travis Blackley. Jeff Clement. Rett Johnson. Ryan Anderson. Bobby Madritsch. Jeremy Reed. Chris Snelling. The Mariners established a track record of having top prospects bust, so to have their absolute crown jewel break through and turn into the guy he was supposed to be - it's like this year Felix decided, okay, not only am I going to make up for all the annoying things I used to do, but I'm also going to try to make up for everyone else too. Felix blossomed, and he blossomed in such a way that, for all of the attention and all of the praise and all of the hope, each and every one of us felt rewarded. A few years ago, some people might've felt that we were being over the top. Felix's 2009 justified everything. Before, I would tell people "hey look out for Felix" and they'd say "call me when he figures it out." Now people tell me "hey that Felix is pretty good" and I get to act smug and say "yeah" under no-shit eyebrows.

2009 saw Felix blossom. He became the pitcher we'd spent the previous three seasons waiting anxiously to see. And now there's a chance we might trade him?

There's a rational, reasonable side to everything. We'll tackle that in part 2. But Felix finally put it all together and turned himself into a buzzsaw, and to think about trading him now after everything - I'm sorry, but that's fucked up. If you're the front office, how would you expect fans to react? You can't say you traded him to make the team better, because you don't trade Felix Hernandez to make the team better. You can't say you traded him to improve the team down the road, because Felix is young and the team isn't far off. And you can't say you traded him because you couldn't agree on an exension, because people will say you should've tried harder. And you should've. Under this hypothetical wherein the Mariners and Felix can't come together on a contract, it's because the Mariners didn't do enough. Felix has done everything he can. Felix has earned recognition. It's on the team to recognize him, and do so appropriately.

I think I've expressed everything that Felix means to us. At least, I should hope I have. God knows I've used enough words. There were times last year that, for a lot of us, Felix might as well have been the only thing keeping us around. The only thing supporting our faith that there has to be a light at the end of the tunnel. We've all been through so much with him, and so to come to a situation where you're given a choice, how do you not give him the money? How do you not offer him a monster contract? How do you not maybe go just a little bit beyond what makes you comfortable for the sake of retaining a player who at times just about kept the franchise alive?

Felix isn't just an excellent player. He's our excellent player, our ace, our guy who came through our system, our guy who signed with the Mariners because he didn't want to be a damn Yankee. Does that not have value? Run your calculations. Figure out how much you're supposed to pay a guy at Felix's age with Felix's performance. Is that it? Is Felix just any 23 year old with 34 starts and a 2.49 ERA? No, he's not. He's Felix Hernandez, career Seattle Mariner. Organizations survive because of the fans. Fans want franchise players and fans want continuity. Fans want Felix Hernandez. Watch the last game of the season. Listen to the ovation he gets when he leaves the mound. Better yet, go back to 2005 and watch the game he pitched against Minnesota in his home debut. Hear that? That's how much Felix has meant to us since the day he arrived, and now is not the time to see him go. I don't know if there'll ever be a time to see him go. But now - now is the time to see him stay, and stay for a while. He's great. People love him. He's 23. Felix is everything you want in a ballplayer, and there are no excuses for not ponying up what it takes to make sure he's around the next time we make the playoffs.

Trading's not like it would be just any trade. Felix wouldn't be missed the way Wladimir Balentien was missed. Felix would be missed like no one you've ever seen. Felix means the world to us, and to trade him after he finally puts it together to some other team and some other fan base would just be so thoroughly and utterly devastating. Forget who we get back. That's not what this is about. This is about Felix. Who else could even begin to appreciate him for what he is? Nobody could. Nobody could appreciate Felix the way we appreciate Felix because nobody else has been through what we've been through. If some team trades for Felix, they get an ace. It's all forward-looking. Felix can do this. Felix will do this. Here, it's as much about looking back at the past as anything else. Felix was this. Felix did this. And, of course, Felix is this. We love Felix as an ace, but what makes the love meaningful, what makes the love deep is the route we've taken to get here. Trade him now and there's no overnight recovery.

And who would you even trade him to? Boston? You might as well send us all individual videos of each of our ex-girlfriends fucking Kevin Youkilis. We all know that, were Felix to find his way to the market, Boston would force its way to the top of the list, and there is nothing, literally nothing worse that I can imagine. Seeing Felix one-hit the Red Sox in Fenway's home opener is among the most cherished experiences of my life. Trade him to Boston and not only do you hurt me today, but you also go back in time and fuck with my memories.

I don't know. The Mariners are in what seems like a difficult situation, but emotionally speaking, it couldn't be easier. Pay the man. Extend him. There's no doubt in my mind that that's what I want, that that's what all of us want. A lot of people will tell you that emotion is no way to manage a roster. Those people are right. No GM should make decisions based solely on emotion. But I feel like emotion has to matter at least a little bit, and in a scenario like this, where you're dealing with a guy who's just a magnificent pitcher, that emotion puts it over the top. You pay Felix and you come out and tell the fans that this is the guy you intend to ride to a championship.

Ultimately, few peoples' fanhood depends entirely on the fate of Felix Hernandez. Baseball fans are a hardy breed, and it takes an awful lot to drive them away. Eleven years ago we traded Randy Johnson to the Astros, and then we lost Griffey, and then we lost Alex Rodriguez, and still the success of the team kept drawing people back. If the Mariners were to break off negotiations and trade Felix somewhere else, I'm sure that, eventually, almost all of us would recover. But I also know that, if the M's trade Felix Hernandez, I won't be as devoted a fan tomorrow as am I today. And that's just not a change that I'm ready to make.