To understand why Félix Hernández is a Hall of Famer, you have to understand the history of baseball in Seattle.
You have to know what it means to live in Seattle, a far-away outpost that, until Amazon’s explosive growth, was almost off the radar of the rest of the country.
You have to experience 43 years of mediocre baseball, occasionally punctuated by a season of jubilance, inevitably followed by a hollow thud of failed expectations.
You have to realize that we Seattleites, we connect to our heroes, and our players are OURS and you can’t have them. Years of headlines trumpeting “Félix Hernández, Future Yankee” flashing in our faces can do a number on ya. When Junior left for Cincinnati, it felt like yet another rebuke, our homegrown superstar choosing to depart. I mean, back in the 1980s, there was literally a billboard on the city limits that said “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?”
You have to connect with the feeling of seeing a baby-faced 19-year-old take the mound way back in 2005, blessed with a 99 mile-per-hour fastball, oodles of talent, and a city ready to sweep him up and claim him as ours.
You have to have been there as The King developed into THE King, the best pitcher in baseball, the best starting pitcher I’ve ever seen. It’s audacious, really, bestowing “King Félix” as a nickname on a pitcher who can’t legally drink, but he’s lived up to the moniker and then some.
You have to think of a favorite Félix moment without even really thinking. I was at the Thunderstruck game, where the Mariners routed the Blue Jays 11–1 and Félix dazzled over seven innings, striking out eight and allowing just one run. But there are so many other moments, too, that resonate for millions (are there millions of us?) of Mariners fans.
You have to understand how to quantify perfection. The concept may be nebulous for many, but not for anybody who’s followed Félix’s career. August 15, 2012 was a magical day, and a day where everybody reading this can probably remember exactly where they were. There are stories of leaving work and buying a ticket in the 7th inning just to witness what absolute dominance looks like, stories of parents and their kids shouting over every strikeout that summer afternoon, stories of the crowd that refused and refused to leave.
You have to have grown up with Félix, seeing him age just as you progress through adolescence. Félix has defined my Mariners fandom more than any other player; he’s been a soothing constant amidst rebuilding and reloading and retooling and whatever else came our way. He’s been our rock.
You have to have seen the King’s Court up close. Thousands of fans screaming and shouting, waving their towels and chanting for a strikeout, roaring when it inevitably comes to pass. The turkey leg celebration, which may be strange but it’s ours, dammit, and the sea of yellow that feels never-ending.
You have to look beyond the stats — which are certainly impressive, no doubt — and talk to a Mariners fan. Literally any Mariners fan. We’ll tell you how we stuck with Félix through the ups and the downs. We’ll tell you how this man transcended baseball to be our icon. We’ll tell you how, once every five days, we went through our day with no worries, because The King was taking the mound tonight, and what could be better than that?
You have to look to the 10,000 fans at the ballpark yesterday who were screaming and shouting and crying for something like four hours. Calling it an emotional night doesn’t cut it. Was it Félix crying on his way from the bullpen to the dugout before the game that got me? How about when he came out in the first and his teammates stayed back, allowing him to soak in our adulation? Perhaps when he pointed to the King’s Court after each strikeout, or the pure joy on his face when Dylan Freaking Moore made the catch of his lifetime to preserve a scoreless 5th?
You have to watch his bow as he exited, stage right, in the 6th. That bow was everything. That curtain call we insisted on was everything, too.
You have to see that, as Félix came back out after the game for a victory lap and selfies and handshakes and kisses on the cheek from fans, there wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium. And that includes our King.
I shouldn’t have to explain why Félix is a Hall of Famer. He just is. And if you don’t get it by now, well, maybe you just don’t get Seattle.
We love you, Félix. Long Live the King.