I worry sometimes that the last several seasons of struggle have chipped away at the memory of what Felix Hernandez was like in his prime. He had a swagger, a smile, and a casually intense way of pitching. He had a fastball he commanded, but never quite controlled, and a 12-to-6 curveball that was devastatingly beautiful. Before he even hit the big leagues, his pitching potential broadcast itself in flashing lights on every marquee in town.
He came along at a time when I was mad at baseball for tarnishing my childhood memories with steroids, and I was disappointed with the Mariners for squandering the chance to become a real baseball team. I watched Félix grow up in the majors with curiosity and appreciation, but I didn’t initially fall deeply in love with him, the way everyone else seemed to.
I was lucky enough to have Ken Griffey Jr. home runs and spectacular catches strewn about my childhood. I remembered what it was like to love a pitcher, having watched Randy Johnson evolve from an uncontrolled hurler into a terrifying pitching mastermind. Félix existed for me, not in that world of idyllic childhood summers, but in a post-college life of creative budgeting to pay rent and soul-sucking office jobs. I began to accept that even though Félix felt like he should belong in the group of players from my childhood, I’d never see him with the same fresh perspective and wide-eyed wonder.
Then, during a tough part of my life, Félix was there. As I fought my way through my 20s, trying to figure out how to be an adult while feeling like a child, every five days I had a Félix Hernández start to anchor me. Those were special days, those Happy Félix Days. Every time he began his windup to throw the first pitch, you felt like you were about to see something special.
Then, on August 15th, 2012 I sat at my desk at work and realized it was happening. My boss had already left for the day. I quietly slipped into his vacant office. I listened to the radio broadcast on my cell phone’s tinny speakers. Every time Félix set to throw the ball my heart thumped like I had murdered and buried someone beneath the floorboards. My head was dizzy, my body was dumb.
He did it.
Félix threw the perfect game he had been building towards his entire career.
I didn’t see him stand on one leg in triumph, the iconic image of his perfect game, until later that night. I didn’t need to. There, in the cynicism and reality of adulthood, I felt a feeling that I hadn’t felt since the Mariners defeated Cleveland in the final game of the 2001 ALDS.
That moment, that pitcher, that game. They will live forever in the part of my brain devoted to sacred baseball memories.