SEATTLE — Félix Hernández will stand in the middle of T-Mobile Park on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd again and the only certainty about this trip to the mound is that there will be tears.
“Probably when I walk to the field,” Hernández said of when the crying will start.
Hernández will become the 11th member of the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame when he’s inducted Saturday night. He may not talk for long, but it will be emotional. Which will be fitting because that’s the way Hernández pitched on the same field for the entirety of his career.
For a stretch, Hernández was arguably the most dominant right-hander in the game, evolving from a chubby-faced 19-year-old who made his debut in 2005 into an overpowering ace aptly nicknamed King Felix who was responsible for some of the biggest moments in franchise history.
“I don’t watch my highlights all the time. But I watch them sometimes,” Hernández said Friday. “And I was pretty good.”
Hernández pitched 15 seasons for the Mariners, often the biggest star on a team that mostly underachieved. He went 169-136 in 418 career starts with a 3.42 ERA. He struck out 2,524 batters, and a better team around Hernandez might have made those numbers even more impressive.
He’s one of five pitchers in baseball history to throw more than 2,500 innings and have more than 2,500 strikeouts with one franchise, joining Walter Johnson, Bob Feller, Bob Gibson and Clayton Kershaw. The first three on that list are in Cooperstown and the fourth seems a safe bet to be enshrined in the future.
Hernández’s case is cloudier in part because he played for some awful teams that kept his win total down, and his performance dipped late in his career.
Hernández owns one Cy Young Award and was runner-up two times.
He was a six-time All-Star.
And until Domingo Germán earlier this season, Hernández was the last major league pitcher to throw a perfect game back in 2012 against Tampa Bay.
But his importance to the Mariners always went beyond the accolades and achievements. His connection with Seattle and its fans is deep, forged through a combination of on-field performance and off-field loyalty.
For the majority of his career in Seattle, Hernández was appointment viewing for Mariners fans. For many of those seasons, he was one of the few reasons there was even interest in the team.
Off the field, Hernandez never left.
When the smarter move might have been to cash in as a free agent and go to a better team with the chance to pitch on a bigger stage, Hernández remained grounded in the Pacific Northwest.
It was a connection that was important to Hernández and was punctuated last October when he threw out the first pitch before Seattle’s lone home playoff game against Houston before a raucous sellout crowd — a stage he never got to perform on during his career.
“It was fun to watch every five days when Felix pitched,” Hernández said, briefly slipping into third person. “(The fans) gave me a lot of excitement, too.”
The end of Hernández’s run in Seattle at the conclusion of the 2019 season was a bit acrimonious. He wanted to keep pitching; the Mariners were ready to move on. He made attempts to latch on with Atlanta and Baltimore, but never again pitched in the majors after Sept. 26, 2019.
His career ledger lists 15 seasons and all of them with the Mariners.
Which feels right.
“It looks way better like that,” Hernández said.