In case you were not there as some fans were, couldn’t listen to it on the radio, or have just plain been living under a rock, here is the entirety of today’s press conference with Felix Hernandez. Get a tissue, you’ll need it. I was nearly sniffling at my desk, and I was listening through the tinny squeal of AM radio in my AM wave-hating building at work. I don’t know if I can deal with video. Might be too sad-happy.
Today’s 2PM event set Twitter ablaze with a fan-fueled love-fest the likes of which I don’t believe has been seen since Felix threw his perfect game. I set my afternoon break time aside specifically to sit and listen and participate in the back-slapping and rejoicing at the altar of Mariners baseball (rather than taking it earlier to go read Cracked or FaceBook like I usually do). A wonderful 15 or so minutes. From what I understand, several fans showed up with King’s Court shirts on, along with a bunch of front office employees as well, to greet Felix and his wife downstairs behind the front desk area in the massive hallway behind home plate. The Mariners Twitter account posted several photos of Felix’s arrival to Safeco, including this one of him breaking down at the greeting he was given. Following it in real time was sort of like being there, or at least listening from an adjoining room with my ear pressed up against a wall. It was the closest I was going to get. Had I known that fans were welcome, I would definitely have attempted to get a few hours away from work. It would have been worth it, and I might have had some good photos to post up here.
In the course of my life, I have watched a lot of press conferences; some for politics, some for sports, some for music. I have to say that this one might be the most moving I have ever seen; and that is really putting it lightly. Ichiro’s departure from our team definitely runs a close second or even tie, but you don’t often get quite this much emotion from athletes, especially not over a simple contract signing. A lot has been said about Felix and the fact that he has made Seattle his home away from home. Listening to Brock and Salk earlier today, a clip was played of an interview with Jack Zduriencik from yesterday. I can’t immediately find or remember the exact quote, but it was something to the effect that Z believes that the signing sends a loud message to fans that the Mariners mean business and that “he is ours.” I hope it sends not only a message to fans, but a message to our current roster of players and also to any prospective free agents that might be doubting the city, the team, or those of us who go to watch the Mariners play. Yes, it is a huge amount of money to shell out to a pitcher, and I am sure that the cash doesn’t hurt Felix’s decision. But the fact that the organization has held onto him for so long and he has made the choice to stay here rather than attempt to get more money from an organization that could give him more do speak volumes. I love that we have a player of this caliber, someone who recognizes how much the city appreciates what he does here, in spite of the bad quality of the team’s overall performance. I know one player does not make a team, but this is one player who definitely makes a difference. And I am glad to be present for all of this, to have been able to watch him develop. I am glad that, unlike Ken Griffey Jr or Ichiro, I didn’t arrive too late.
There are rarely ups without downs, though, and while today’s “up” is a pretty big one, the down is kind of a bummer. Shawn Kelley got nabbed by the New York Yankees. This is significant to me because it marks the absolute end of the gladiator bullpen of 2009. They’re all gone. I knew Kelley would get picked up; other teams would be crazy not to go after him. I just didn’t really want him to go. I don’t even care that it’s the Yankees; it just makes me sad that my favorite bullpen of my favorite version of the Mariners has been scattered to the 30 winds of MLB. I knew it was just a matter of time, but it is difficult to say goodbye so abruptly; there was no warning here, just a poof! of number 23. I don’t know who keeps the bullpen weird anymore, or even if it’s kept weird. I know that there were some funny handshakes and little rituals that were done last year, but last season was kind of an aimless one for me, so I never really paid much attention. I don’t want to foist any expectations on the kids that are left, but it would certainly be great to have some more character in our relief pool. 2009 was fun, and I will always remember it, the guys, and what they did for my fandom. In an event, I wish Kelley very well. Not against us (though I won’t be surprised), but I wish him well.
Now, the vaguely agonizing few weeks left before Spring Training starts all proper-like, and the final haul before that best day of all days, the Seattle Mariners home opener. I felt a little warm twinge to the air this afternoon while I was waiting for the bus. Spring, and baseball, are both on their way to Seattle!