My relationship to Félix Hernández is complicated and simple. I grew up here and came of age in sports at exactly the right time to adore the Mariners; then I moved away at 11 years old and had little to no in-person contact with the Mariners, save the jaunt to the Trop every year or two to catch a game in the series there (which was comforting in its own right, as pre-updating Tropicana Field felt shockingly like the Kingdome, or at least hazy 7-year-old memories of the Kingdome). I confess that for most of Félix’ reign, my attention was elsewhere; first in college in the pre-smartphone era, where I kept up with the Mariners through the tepid connection of box score scanning on ESPN, then in law school, where, well, if you’re in law school you’re not spending a lot of time on obsessing over baseball.
The closest I got to experiencing Félix in all his glory is also my ultimate missed baseball connection. In August 2012 we came to Seattle for a friend’s wedding; in the course of planning the trip, I noted that our last full day in town, August 15, 2012, had a day game against the Rays. I made a mental note to make sure we set aside time to hit Safeco Field for old times’ sake. Circumstances conspired against me and we ended up making our return a day early, taking the redeye out of town on the night of the 14th. I see and hear the way so many of you talk about Félix and I get it, because I have that or a similar connection with other Mariners, but I know I don’t feel the same way about him, though I want to desperately.
By the time I began to read Lookout Landing, graduated law school, rekindled my passion for baseball, and returned to live in Seattle in 2016, we had begun the long slow downward arc that landed last night. From afar, I got to enjoy Félix’ single best overall season and moments of brilliance like the 15-strikeout game in the Trop (as in 2012, my timing was off and I went to the previous day’s game), but by the time I came back and started coming to games regularly again, the King’s reign was effectively over. Though July and August have lessened the odds, the Mariners have as good or better of a team than they’ve ever had in his tenure; after years of team failure and individual success, things are well aligned to cruelly reverse and bring the Mariners October baseball—and if they reach that point, they’ll have to decide between nostalgia and leaving the franchise’s most loyal player home because he doesn’t deserve, in a sixty-feet-six-inches way, to be there.
No one can take away the perfect game, the 168 wins, destroying the Red Sox and Daisuke Matsuzaka, the grand slam, the 2,441 strikeouts, the immaculate inning. As all of us well know, there are many ways to enjoy baseball beyond on-field success, and he gave us so many moments: brilliant to hilarious to defying belief and everything in between. All the way down to the merciless teasing of Adrian Beltre one last time, we’ll fondly remember every one of these moments. But when I think of Félix, I’ll think of those things, and then I’ll think of my own relationship to him, and his relationship to the Mariners: it just never lined up the way I wanted.