“He gave us his heart, he gave us his soul, he gave everything he had to give until there was nothing more.” ~ Rick Rizzs
The score was always destined to be insignificant. Tonight’s recipe was celebration of greatness, stuffed full of nostalgia, and sprinkled with hope for one last bit of magic. Every moment felt hyperreal, like if ‘Truman’s Show’ were set in a ballpark. Tonight, under the lights of T-Mobile Park as the home starter for the final time, King Félix made the game interactive as he did for so many years. He brought the crowd in, and let us all feel, without a hint of obfuscation, that he was living and dying with each of his pitches the same as we were.
That was the magic of Félix Hernández. More than merely the strikeouts, the hard-luck losses, the Cy Young, the loyalty, the perfect game, the extension. Félix without his fire would have been loved, admired, even idolized. No doubt Chuck Finley and Kevin Appier have their stalwart admirers in Anaheim and Kansas City. But with every fist pump, every roar of elation and curse of frustration, Félix showed himself as something few players can comfortably be: a fan, just like us.
What I wanted for the past decade from this team more than anything was to see Félix pitch in the postseason in a Mariners uniform. It’s a dream I shared with many M’s fans, and while I can’t speak for everyone, that locus of overwhelming desire and hope transformed my fandom. I wanted it for him as badly as I did for myself.
It will never come to pass, and the knowledge of that fact weighs on me as though I could have done a damn thing about it. The terrible thing about caring about someone so much is that when they make you feel like you matter, it is excruciating to feel impotent to return the favor and nourish their dreams. But as hard as it has been to handle these strange sentiments I’ve held for years towards the Mariners and The King, it isn’t ultimately about what I/we project upon them.
For days, weeks, even years, article after article has been written on Félix with a powerfully moribund aura. It’s understandable - his MLB future is uncertain to the point of being somewhat hypothetical. But the day after the World Series ends, when Félix becomes a free agent for the first time since the age of 16, he will not fade into the ether. He will be free. Free and able of course to continue pursuing his career in the only profession he’s ever known as he says he intends to do. Just as free, however, to explore all the rest the world has to offer a 33 year old who has been one of the greatest to ever do what he has done. He’s a husband and the father of Jeremy and Mia Hernández, who he could spend his time doting on. He could find a hobby, a second career, or simply relish doing almost nothing at all.
Aristotle insisted tragedy consist of “a reversal of fortune, involving persons renowned and of superior attainments.” There is something heartbreaking and rudimentarily unfair about Félix’s tenure with the Mariners ending this way. And yet, he has been a success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and so much of the tragedy of his story is simply what we apply to it.
At the outset of this season the Mariners said goodbye to another franchise cornerstone: Ichiro Suzuki. Perhaps no player in history has ever seemed less prepared for the end of their career than Ichiro, with one of the most haunting quotes on retirement I have ever heard.
“When you retire from baseball, you have until the day you die to rest,” [Ichiro] said. And when the day finally comes to retire? “I think I’ll just die,” he said.
I have fretted long and often on this same question for Félix. Though The King’s life is not scheduled to a T around the game and his training as Ichiro’s was, his entire life since he became a teenager has revolved around who he was thanks to what he could do with a baseball. If not the playoffs, I now at least hope for Félix to be happy. I suspect it concerns him far less than it does us.
Félix has told an incredible story, and kept us at his side every step of the way. He strode out onto the field as the final out was recorded, greeting and thanking the many remnants of the 10,000 fans who made up the final King’s Court. With smiles, hugs, handshakes, and a little bit of dancing, Félix’s stayed the tears that flowed before the game and as he was removed after recording the first out of the sixth inning. He showed us one last lesson: time softens sadness, heals heartbreak, and gives us an opportunity to appreciate what was.
Félix Hernández was The King. If he wants the crown, it will always be his in Seattle. Whatever comes next, he can leave the trappings of his royalty behind for now. He can simply be... Félix.