Because we do; and he does. But the reasons are much different than it might appear on the surface, and I felt compelled to think out loud here for a few moments. Don’t worry, it’ll be short and to the point.
When Felix Hernandez was coming up through the minors, Twitter wasn’t a thing yet. The (at the time pretty small) blogosphere was already seeing him for what he was: El Rey. In his still-little-kid chubbiness, his hat falling off when he threw to the plate up in Everett with the Aquasox, his near-mullet dark curly hair sticking out of his hat, I remember hearing about this guy under all the Ichiro greatness that was advertised on TV. Ichiro was The Face of the Mariners, but there was this other kid, this pitcher…when I took the plunge into the baseball world in 2007-2008, Felix was still losing more games in a year than he was winning, having only just gotten up to the majors in 2005. He was still young, still working off that little kid pudge, still figuring out his stuff and his style, and of course had a lot less tattoos. But he was already easily on his way to being the A Pretty Big Deal.
So much time has passed between now and then that I honestly don’t remember the first time I heard the title “King Felix”. But I remember one of the first times I ever heard it used by 710 ESPN, back in 2010-or’11-ish when I used to listen to the original Brock and Salk show at my engineering job on Harbor Island, and it hit me; this means something. Something the fans have laid claim to and created was just mentioned on a local branch of a national radio channel, and that is important. They would play “Sunshine and Lollipops” before an on-air interview with Jeff Sullivan or Dave Cameron. Other shows on the station eventually made it part of their everyday vernacular; King Felix Hernandez. King Felix. The King is starting tonight at Safeco Field. That’s what the fans called him, and the fans made believers out of the local radio, out of the national media, even maybe out of Felix himself (I mean, not to get too big a head about it, but you know we helped).
So when Felix Hernandez refers to himself as “The King”, it’s because he knows we know. It’s not ego, it’s not false bravado; it’s because he knows we love him, he knows we accept it; he loves us just as much as we love him. That’s a rarity in this game where there are so many players and so many fans; that level of acknowledgement and humility and respect; and if that’s not a wonderful fantastic thing, then I don’t know what is. All Rise. Larga Vida El Rey!