Felix Hernandez making his 324th career start today, passing Jamie Moyer for most in Mariners history.— Greg Johns (@GregJohnsMLB) July 29, 2015
At the end it starts at the beginning. It's being one, swinging a small toy truck at a balloon tossed to you by your dad. It's being 7 and hitting a ball over your house and having it be the happiest moment of your life to that point. You're 8, sitting in the Kingdome watching this perfectly created baseball organism named Ken Griffey Jr. run, hit and catch in a way you never knew was possible.
You sit in the sun and make a wiffle ball spin and curve and pretend you're in the big leagues. That stupid yellow wiffle bat is too skinny so you bring out the big ol' red bat; the one that makes a giant, hollow "BWONK" whenever you hit it. You're 9 and you don't have a ton of friends so you toss yourself the ball and mimic the stances of all the best hitters in the game. Here's Mo Vaughn, Albert Belle, Juan Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner, Mike Blowers, Joey Cora. Ok not all the best hitters. You find a tree line, pretend it's a fence and concoct epics moments of tense drama in your mind.
The game gets into you and it never leaves, for better or worse. You find the ones that leap highest, throw hardest, run fastest and you follow. At some point a regional loyalty/brand gets attached to that. The whole enterprise of baseball TEAM fandom is at its most base nothing more than a phenomenal and cynical marketing exercise; praying on the best of your nature to extract your money. You know this. You're an adult now. This is how it works.
But somewhere a man in Venezuela sees a kid, barely a teenager. That kid can throw a baseball 90 MPH at a ridiculously young age. He's a phenom, a prodigy. His talent and cocksure smile have that Mozartian quality that makes the jealous among us curse god like Salieri. Why give me the love of this game and not the talent to play it?
This man gets to know this young Venezuelan's family. It's possible he's bullshitting them. At some level it's probably almost certain. This man works for a baseball team and he knows this kid is something special. He's right of course. But he's just looking at that right arm. The kid is special in ways he could never have foreseen, in ways that transcend achievement and breed a love and loyalty beyond wins and losses.
You? Well you're done playing ball now. You're married in your 20's, trying to figure out what the hell life is all about. You still watch the game of course. It's a habit. A comfort. Something deeper than choice. The internet has started to give fans a platform to write and read about the game in ways that newspapers never could. You read reports about this baby-fat laden teenager from Venezuela with a golden arm. He's called "El Rey" or "The King". You're not cyncial enough yet to really brush off this kind of hype. Hope and dreams are still readily accessible to you.
Before long that Venezuelan kid is in the big leagues, pitching for your team. He is, simply, everything. He is the star you dream of and spend your whole life realizing no one can actually be. But he is. He actually is. His on the field accomplishments are beyond anything you could imagine. Despite the team, that stupid team that capitalism grafted onto your soul decades ago, failing at almost every turn and in an era when he was rightly empowered to leave multiple times he stayed. He stayed and he thrived, although his team was beyond even his powers to save.
Now, today, he has taken the mound more than any starter your team has had, ever. He is not the best pitcher to ever pitch for your team, but he's the greatest pitcher your team has ever had. The team, almost as a sick homage to his greatness and their own perpetual failure, are putting out one of the weakest lineups of the year.
It doesn't matter. It never has.
The point isn't the winning or the losing. No one here is here because of the good times. There are no good times, at least not in the way your childhood promised. There's just the game, the pitcher, 60' 6" of endless possibility and something greater than any trophy or flag could ever bring you.
The game is baseball, the pitcher is Felix Hernandez, and we are the luckiest people in the world.
- Arizona Diamondbacks @ Seattle Mariners, 12:40 PST, Safeco Field
- TV: ROOT, Radio: 710 ESPN, Online: MLBTV
|ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS||SEATTLE MARINERS|
|Ender Inciarte - RF||Felix - CF|
|A.J. Pollock - CF||Felix - 3B|
|Paul Goldschmidt - 1B||Felix - RF|
|David Peralta - LF||Felix - LF|
|Welington Castillo - C||Felix - DH|
|Jake Lamb - 3B||Felix - 2B|
|Yasmany Tomas - DH||Felix - 1B|
|Chris Owings - 2B||Felix - C|
|Cliff Pennington - SS||Felix - SS|
|Patrick Corbin - LHP||Felix - RHP|