Felix Hernandez walked in Safeco Field on Wednesday knowing that he was about to become the highest paid pitcher in the history of baseball. That’s because the day before, Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners officially agreed on a new seven-year, $175 million contract. What Felix Hernandez didn’t know is that he was about to be greeted by the Mariners front office staff dressed like the ‘King’s Court’ (Hernandez’ rowdy fan section at Safeco Field). They were all decked out in yellow, waving huge cutouts of Felix’s head, and ready to celebrate the arrival of their superstar.
When the elevator doors opened, the staff erupted. The cheers were nothing new to Felix Hernandez, but his reaction was. Hernandez walked into the crowd and immediately broke into tears. The audience started chanting “Felix! Felix!” and that only pushed the Mariners pitcher into more emotion. I think the Mariners staff hoped for good reaction from Felix, but they didn’t expect tears. When I asked someone if they thought Felix would cry, they smiled and told me no. All they wanted was Felix to feel welcome and there’d no doubt they accomplished that.
Hernandez’ emotions didn’t stop in the hallway. He couldn’t even make it through his opening statements on the podium without tearing up. He took a deep breath to gather himself and then thanked his agent, his family, the Seattle Mariners, M’s fans, and then he thanked everyone again and again. I’m pretty sure Hernandez said thank you 100 times yesterday. Right before he signed his record-setting contract, Felix even pointed out how much his hands were shaking. It was crazy. The guy who typically isn’t flustered by anything on the mound was having a tough time simply writing his name. That shows just how much Hernandez was captured by the moment.
If you weren’t there for the press conference, it would be easy to ask if Felix’s emotions were real. I’m here to tell you that they were. If they weren’t, Hernandez should be up for an Academy Award. Felix is usually fairly quiet and he mumbles through most of his postgame interviews. I remember even having a hard time picking out a good soundbite after Hernandez tossed the first perfect game in M’s history last year. He shared plenty of excitement after that game, but his answers were very quick and not good for television. Yesterday was different, because Felix’s voice boomed (I honestly think it was an adrenaline rush). You didn’t even need a microphone to hear him. He spoke clearly and straight from the heart.
A lot of athletes would be arrogant after becoming one of the highest paid players in their profession (*cough* Alex Rodriguez *cough*), but Hernandez was extremely humble. He promised the fans of Seattle that he would never change. He told them that he’ll be the same person walking into the ballpark every single day. Before he got too far, Felix realized that wasn’t totally true, so he corrected himself. Hernandez now guaranteed M’s fans that they’d see a difference, vouching to become a better pitcher every year.
That was relief to some fans’ ears, because there’s always the possibility of a let down after a player gets a massive contract. The player gets their millions and then they get complacent. San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum is a prime example. He signed his two-year, $40.5 million dollar contract with the Giants last year and his numbers dipped dramatically on the field. Lincecum went from 13 wins and a 2.74 earned run average in 2011 to 10 wins and a 5.18 ERA in 2012. He wasn’t even in San Francisco’s rotation in the postseason, instead he came out of the bullpen in five of his six outings. Felix Hernandez says that’s not going to happen to him, instead it’s going to be the opposite. Hernandez says he’s going to work harder than ever before and promised to “not disappoint anybody.”
The Mariners have seen a lot of star players leave over the years. Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson all made a name for themselves in Seattle and then bounced. They either wanted to go where they could win or where they could get more money, endorsements and fame (*cough* Alex Rodriguez *cough*). Felix Hernandez isn’t one of those guys. He actually wants to be in Seattle. He’s said that over and over for years, but I think it was hard for everyone to trust him. You can stop questioning him now. Felix is locked up in Seattle through the 2019 season, and he even joked that he’d like to talk about a contract extension after this year. In response, Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said, “If you win the Cy Young, we can talk about anything you want.”
As a sportscaster, I long for the day athletes stop using the same old clichés. I want them to give real answers or just simply be themselves. What we saw on Wednesday was the real Felix Hernandez. He was quick to cry, provided plenty of laughs and told us exactly what he was thinking. The best part of the press conference happened before anyone asked him a question. Felix just started talking and talking. The words came out of his mouth as they came to his head. It was scattered. It was real. It was awesome.
Did you watch or listen to any of Felix Hernandez’ press conference (here’s a chunk of it if you haven’t)? What did you think? What do you think of his $175 million contract? I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Don’t forget to also check out the latest from the world of sports right now on http://allaroundtim.com.