A few weeks ago, in that Q&A I did with Mariner Central, Lonnie asked if I thought Felix Hernandez could get any better. My response at the time was that, while I didn't see much more room for growth on the mound, I figured that Felix's next step could be making a real effort to become a true leader, and the face of the franchise. Felix has been here for five and a half seasons, after all, and he's the best player on the team. The opportunity's there for him to become more than just a great pitcher.
What I should have noted was that that next step was already well underway. Felix has been hard at work gunning for that leadership position for some time now, and after he made a number of recent public appearances, his maturation and commitment have kind of become the story of the week. Greg Johns wrote about it on Monday. John Hickey wrote about it yesterday. And Shannon Drayer wrote about it at considerable length this morning. Now I'm here writing this, simply to echo what others have already said.
A Felix quote that really says it all, from Hickey's piece:
"I'm the leader right now...It's something I want to do to help the team."
From what we've seen just this offseason, Felix has made an extraordinary effort. From hanging around to model the new teal jerseys to speaking at last week's luncheon to spending all last weekend participating at Fanfest, Felix hasn't exactly been flying under the radar. Then you throw in some of the stories from Shannon's piece that we didn't know about before and it becomes clear just how seriously Felix takes his position, and the responsibilities that come along with it.
Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that Felix Hernandez is absolutely committed to the Seattle Mariners. He's clearly committed to doing his job on the mound, and we've seen him make remarkable progress from his younger days. But he's also every bit as committed to doing his job off of it - whether that be encouraging teammates, getting on their backs, or representing the team at various events. Felix knows what's expected of him, he knows what he's supposed to do, and he doesn't take any of it lightly.
If Felix isn't a true team leader yet, he will be soon. And while it's difficult to imagine someone other than Ichiro serving as the face of the franchise, Felix is right there, nipping at his tiny little heels. One notices that, while Ichiro's been off doing his own thing for much of the offseason, Felix has been everywhere. Perhaps the transition has already taken place.
I don't know how important any of this really is. I can't calculate by how many wins Felix stands to make this team better by being more than a really good player. I mean, leadership is generally one of those intangibles that we write off as old-timey broadcaster speak. But in every instance, you'd rather a guy be a committed leader and team representative than not, and when you consider these efforts along with Felix's improvement from his days as a prospect, it's apparent that Felix's development and maturation have to this point gone as well as they possibly could've.
Sure, the Mariners built a reputation for running pitching prospects through a wood chipper. But if ever there were one guy you'd want to survive out of that group and blossom, it was this one. With Felix, the Mariners hit the jackpot.