By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — When Felix Hernandez pumps a called strike past an overmatched Oakland player and suddenly finds himself clad in armor and a cape as a sword in a stone magically appears next to the mound …
And when Hernandez then blithely reaches over and draws that sword from the stone, thereby validating his claim as king … well, you know you’re seeing what has become an annual rite of spring in the Pacific Northwest.
The release of the Mariners’ commercials.
“Have you seen them, yet?” Hernandez asked Wednesday through a spreading smile prior to a night game against the Chicago Cubs at Peoria Stadium.
“Pretty good, huh?”
This year’s batch are, again, a collaborative work between the Mariners and the Seattle-based advertising agency of Copacino + Fujikado. And as always, they don’t disappoint.
“This is our 20th year now,” said Kevin Martinez, the club’s vice president for marketing. “We’ll talk (with the ad agency) about individual players and some of their traits, characteristics, tendencies and quirks on the field.
“They go back to the lab and work on it for the month of November and early December.”
The process absorbed a curve when the Mariners signed free-agent second baseman Robinson Cano in mid-December because, of course, he had to be in one of the “True to the Blue” campaign spots.
What the agency devised is dubbed: “Slow Mo and Music.” It depicts life downshifting to an appreciative crawl while Cano displays his graceful skills in multiple ways to the accompaniment of celestial music.
Manager Lloyd McClendon and shortstop Brad Miller watch from the bench, and Miller marvels: “I just got goosebumps.”
The players, generally, have not seen the completed spots, which the club debuted online early Wednesday before showcasing them during Root Sports’ telecast of the game against the Cubs from Peoria Stadium.
“I can’t wait to see them,” Cano said. “Are they good?”
The online distribution of the five 30-second spots created an immediate stir on Twitter and other social-media portals, which provides the hook for “Old School,” the commercial featuring third baseman Kyle Seager.
In it, Seager displays his throwback approach by tweeting on a manual typewriter, starting games with his uniform already dirty and by working in batting practice to perfect his ability to get hit by pitches.
“Come on, harder!” he implores at one point.
In an outtake, also released, Seager cautions, “You really don’t have to throw it harder.”
All-Star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma unveils what purports to be a surprising side to his reserved personality by break dancing in “Quiet Surprise.” At one point he spins on his head like an inverted ballerina.
But, mostly, there’s Hernandez.
“When he’s King Arthur and removes the sword from the stone,” Martinez said, “that whole thing is Felix. He just ad-libbed it. He just has a real great feel for it, and he has fun with it.”
Another commercial highlights Henry Chadwick as the inventor of the box score while puzzling over his decision to use the letter “K” to signify the scorecard notation for a strikeout.
It is only decades later, the spot suggests, that Chadwick’s genius is validated as the scene shifts to a clip of fans going bonkers at Safeco Field while holding up “K” placards in support of King Felix.
The Mariners also released a two-minute clip of outtakes and bloopers that offers the perfect ending: Hernandez is dressed as an Elvis impersonator. He strides from the mound toward the camera with a finger pointed at all of us.
“Thank you,” he says in Presley’s well-known Delta drawl. “Thank you, very much.”