By Ryan Divish The News Tribune
PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez never asked to be the face of the Seattle Mariners franchise. It’s not something you can choose. It chooses you when you are one of the most talented and successful players on the team and blessed with charisma.
But unlike Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., Hernandez didn’t run from the responsibilities that came with the role. Instead he wrapped his arms around it like one of his two children.
Be the guy that represents the Mariners? No, problem.
“He does embrace what he means to the Seattle Mariners and the community and the greater Northwest,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s not just about baseball. There’s so much more than that involved. The time he gives to the community, the time he gives to the Mariners and just what he cares about and what is important to him. I think all those things come into play when it comes to what Felix Hernandez means to us.”
So before Hernandez could officially sign his new contract extension and deliver a stirringly emotional press conference that left those watching with goose bumps, his manager and teammates back at spring training here could only offers compliments and reasons why he deserved the 7-year, $175 million payday.
“It’s nice when good or great things happen to good people,” said shortstop Brendan Ryan. “In the offseason or whenever asked, I spend more time talking about him as a guy in the clubhouse and how he carries himself. He’s just grounded. You don’t talk about entitlement with him. There’s humility about him. He’s earned it. He’s the King and we’re just happy for him.”
From his fellow pitchers, you will find nothing but admiration and respect. “He’s earned that deal,” said fellow starter Blake Beavan. “You look at what he’s done and what he’s accomplished. He’s somebody that puts in the work. He just doesn’t show up and have success. He works.”
When Beavan and other rookies were first called up, Hernandez bought meals, offered advice and took care of them.
“We didn’t even ask,” Beavan said. “He just did it. He didn’t have to do it. He wanted to do it.”
Wedge often preaches about things like commitment and professionalism. He has the best example in his best player.
“You’re talking about a couple times Felix has chosen to stay here, and now he’s going to be here for a long time,” Wedge said. “I think it says a lot about his character and what Seattle and the Mariners mean to him. But it also says a lot about his belief in the direction this big league club and organization are going. He wants to win as much as anybody.”
Being the face of the Mariners or any team isn’t easy. There are requests, responsibilities, duties and it takes time and energy. To his credit, Hernandez has understood and accepted all that has been asked, while still performing on the field.
“That’s why he’s a special guy,” Ryan said. “It takes a special personality to embrace those things and want to be that guy and be able to handle it. There’s a lot that goes with it. People are always tugging at your shirt and all that.”
And yet, Hernandez never complains about it. He does it because he wants to. It’s what you’re supposed to do.
“You want to shake his parents’ hands, and tell them they did a good job,” Ryan said. “He gets it. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and carries himself the right way. I don’t think there’s anything phony about him. What you see is what you get and there’s not enough of that around.”
Mariners trade Kelley
The Mariners have traded right-handed reliever Shawn Kelley to the New York Yankees for minor league outfielder Abraham Almonte.
After designating Kelley for assignment to make room for Kelly Shoppach on Thursday, the Mariners had 10 days to either trade, release or outright him.
Kelley, who has value as a reliever, wasn’t going to clear waivers, so instead of losing him without a return, the Mariners picked up Almonte to add to their organizational depth.
Almonte, 23, played 78 games for Class AA Trenton, hitting .276 with 17 doubles, four triples, four homers and 25 RBI with 30 stolen bases. He posted a .350 on-base percentage and a .392 slugging percentage. He has stolen more than 30 bases five different times in his career. Almonte isn’t really considered a prospect, but more of an organizational player that can provide depth at the Class AA and Class AAA level.