By John Boyle
When Felix Hernandez exited an elevator on the way to Wednesday’s press conference, he was surprised to see fans and Mariners employees waiting for him in yellow “King’s Court” shirts. Cheers of K, K, K, K, followed by chants of “Felix, Felix” had the Mariners ace, who just signed a new contract to keep him in Seattle through the 2019 season, in tears.
And when the press conference got going, the emotions only grew as Hernandez had to pause repeatedly while thanking Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, ownership, the fans, and his family (see the video below).
“To all the people in Seattle that believe in me,” he said, “I’m not going to disappoint anybody.”
Hernandez, whose deal is fully guaranteed, contains a full no-trade clause, and will pay him $175 million over seven years, has never wavered when it comes to where he wants to be, and he made as much clear to his representatives, as well as his team.
“He wanted to be here,” said Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln. “He was expressing this over and over and over. That’s pretty unusual. How many players tell you to your face, ‘I’d really like to stay here.’ That makes you feel pretty good. Unlike maybe a free agent that (says) ‘Well maybe I’ll stay here, maybe I will not.’ Consistent all the way the down the line for the last few years, he’s been sending us the same message: ‘I would like to finish my career here, I would like to stay here, I’d like to be Mariner. I love it here, I love the fans in Seattle.’ and he was quite sincere, so we wanted to take him up on his offer.”
And that’s what made this day and this contract so unique. Now let’s not kid ourselves, money had a lot to do with Hernandez agreeing to a seven-year deal, but how many star athletes decide not once but twice to sign extensions well before they get a chance to test free agency. If you think the money Hernandez got this week is big, it’s nothing compared to what he would have been able to get on the open market if he had two more strong seasons, then hit free agency as a 28-year-old on top of his game. But for Hernandez, who signed with the Mariners when he was 16 and began his professional career in Everett, staying in Seattle was the only thing that mattered.
“Never considered it,” he said of free agency. “I always say that this is home, this is my life.
Asked why, Hernandez answered, “Probably because I’m different. It’s the way my family raised me. If you feel comfortable in a place—now I’m the reporter—if you feel comfortable and happy and you believe in people, are you going to go anywhere?”
As for those reports that surfaced over the weekend that an elbow “issue” could get in the way of the deal getting done, Zduriencik said the Mariners medical staff gave Hernandez a “clean bill of health” and Hernandez added, “I feel fine. I’m totally healthy. I’m fine.”