BY Art Thiel 09:05PM 02/13/2013

Thiel: Dude wanted to be here for good. That’s it

Felix Hernandez is a longtime Mariner because he enjoys being here as much as the franchise enjoys having him. Corny, sentimental and true as a perfect game.

Felt like the right boy and right girl announced their engagement to the joy, relief and surprise of the part of the world who so cared it would happen and so knew it wouldn’t.

In case you wondered, Felix Hernandez was the blushing bride, creating a high tide of tears that dampened the pants cuffs of everyone in his presence Wednesday. Hell, shirt cuffs were wet.

Since none of us is likely to receive $175 million for our services — certainly, no baseball pitcher in major league history had — Hernandez was free to set the standard for grateful appreciation. He may have retired the trophy.

“You see I am shaking,” said Hernandez, who paused for 20 seconds, searching for a grip. “To all the people of Seattle, who trust me and believe in me — I will not let you down.

“I do this because I love this city and want to be here. I don’t want to to go nowhere else. It was a decision I’ve made for a long time.”

No cynicism, sabermetrics or common baseball sense could stand against  Hernandez’s simple sincerity. Dude wanted to play baseball in Seattle for the rest of his career, and the only ones who wanted it more were the Mariners owners and staff, sick to death of a decade of emotional bludgeoning.

The club doesn’t care how it looks to the baseball world or the real world; it cares that Felix cares and many fans care. This deal wasn’t about getting better as a team; the man was already under contract for two more years. This was about try to get well by stopping the bleeding from wounds self-inflicted.

The man most vilified for the condition of the Mariners, CEO Howard Lincoln, made a rare public appearance to say, essentially, he was thrilled to have his operation wanted.

“I think it’s important more than anything that he wanted to be here,” Lincoln said. “He was expressing this over and over and over. That’s pretty unusual. How many players tell you to your face, ‘I’d really like to stay here’? That makes you feel pretty good.”

The feel-goods Thursday started with Hernandez’s emergence from the elevator on Safeco Field’s ground floor. He was greeted by chants and cheers from dozens of Mariners employees dressed in the yellow T-shirts from the “King’s Court” marketing masterstroke. He teared up immediately, saying later the moment “will always be there in my mind my whole life.”

He continued to the press conference, where his voice wavered from the start following a grand intro from GM  Jack Zduriencik, who in his remarks said, “You run into people in your life who are special people. I haven’t met a guy with this man’s character. His loyalty and dedication to his teammates and city is unbelievable. He’s a great man.”

Hernandez begins his ninth major league season this month as hugely accomplished pro, yet he has zero inclination to try something new, a contention regularly disbelieved by many locals who had been backhanded by dozens of eagerly former Mariners.

“I don’t want to go to a place I don’t feel happy, I don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “I want to be in a place I feel great, I feel comfortable, I feel good around the people, and Safeco Field, around the city of Seattle. That’s why I do this.”

He even kidded  Zduriencik that he wanted the GM to start work on a contract extension. Imagine what he might have said if the Mariners had kept Safeco Field’s fences where they were.

As to the contract, Zduriencik reported that the $175 million amount was correct, the deal was fully guaranteed and included a no-trade clause, a club first. He also reported that the medical and training staffs signed off on Hernandez’s health-worthiness. But there was indeed concern about his pitching elbow, enough to prompt inclusion of an unusual clause a little.

FoxSports.com reported that he cluase provides a conditional club option for a salary of $1 million in 2020,  which would be applicable if Hernandez is on the disabled list for more than 130 days in any 183 consecutive major-league days for right elbow surgery or any other procedure to fix his right elbow.

“We got a complete medical from our doctors,” Zduriecik said. “Our doctors were very satisfied with it. He got a clean bill of health. (Team doctor)  Ed Khalfayan was very comfortable. H said this guy could pitch his whole career and never have an issue.

Hernandez gets a $6 million signing bonus, then his salaries will be $19M in 2013, then $22M, $24M, $25M, $26M, $26M and $27M.

Asked whether this deal would have been possible had the Mariners signed free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton to a reported deal of $100 million over four years, with two options years at $25 million each. HE signed with the Angels for five guaranteed years at $125 million.

“Yeah, I do believe it would be (doable),” Zduriencik said. “I really do. It’s a great question. I tried to say this, and sometimes people think you say it just because you’re supposed to say it, but that was a real deal we had on the table.

“I’ve read some (disparaging remarks from Hamilton), and I was like, really? It makes me shake my head a little bit. Those were substantial dollars. I don’t think it would have affected this deal, because this ownership has said, for the right player at the right time, we will invest. I think that commitment there, although it didn’t work out.

This commitment to Felix really says they will spend, and they have.”

They did spend, because they discovered their money was good with Felix Hernandez. Now if Felix Hernandez is as good for the Mariners, Seattle will be taken seriously for more than the guts to write a check from the heart.

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YourThoughts

  • Tim

    I was waiting for this Art–couldn’t go to bed without your take on it. Great day…epic. Thanks.

    • art thiel

      Thanks, Tim. You made my day.

  • Matt712

    Wow. This could be the first figurative hand squeeze or eye blink of the comatose patient known as the Seattle Mariners. Maybe we should start calling him Dr. Felix instead. From a character standpoint, “Dude” seems to be a breed apart from just about any pro athlete of his caliber in modern sports.

    Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic but I believe in the karmic destination of great good deeds. As bad as the Ms have been over the last decade, they have also been victim to some pretty terrible luck. You never know when the turning point to good fortune arrives. It usually takes some kind of leap of faith. Then again, I’ve been divorced for 15 years.

    • art thiel

      Lots of mixed feelings there, Matt. Kinda like life.

      Not sure about karma, but doing the right thing should be its own reward. This was the right thing for a desperate franchise. Felix will never be more important to another franchise as he is to Seattle, and he knows it. I would be surprised if he used his importance to leverage the franchise, a la Griffey.

      All around, Felix seems a lot more grounded emotionally.

  • just passing thru

    Art, thanks for writing such an insightful article on a story that’s covered everywhere but nearly so well. Hooray for Felix and hooray for the Ms. I’m thinking I’ll see more games this year than I have for the last 4-5

    • art thiel

      Glad you enjoyed. Your feelings on Felix reflect the outcome the Mariners sought: Some restoration of cred among fans.

  • just passing thru

    *not nearly so well. sorry about that

  • jafabian

    Few teams will mean as much to a player as their first one. Only one that might mean more is if said team is in their hometown. We learned those lessons from the Griffeys. Love the reaction of the audience when Felix entered the room and his own afterwards. You won’t see this happen to A. J. Pierzynski, Jose Reyes or….Alex Rodriguez.

    Felix isn’t taking his situation for granted. Refreshing to see in a pro athlete.

    • art thiel

      Felix is entering an increasingly rare situation for an MLB player or any pro athlete: A sincere hug provided, and a sincere hug returned.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BryanClark75 Bryan Clark

    Seattle truly knows how to show love to its greatest athletes. It was strange to see Griffey (my all-time favorite ball player) take that love and flip it into the circular file on the way out the door. Arod – We knew early on he was going for the bright lights. Randy was never offered a legit contract. Those we understood. Griffey… well that one hurt. What makes more sense is for a guy like Felix Hernandez, nicknamed “King” by Seattleites before he ever set foot in our town, show us some love in return.

    • art thiel

      Remember, Griffey twice re-signed with Seattle before asking to be traded. I don’t think it had much to do with the fan base as geography and ballpark. He knew Safeco would damage his career HR totals, and his parents were divorcing. Like many kids, he thought he could help fix things. Usually doesn’t work out that way.

  • Michael Kaiser

    Lincoln says, “How many players tell you to your face, ‘I’d really like to stay here’?”

    In his position, I suspect not many. LOL.

    • art thiel

      I think a lot of players would like to stay, but few of them are good. But the good guys have not been kept because personnel and resources have been mismanaged.

  • KS

    Can the Mariners afford to put a team of winning players around Felix?

    • art thiel

      They always have been able to afford it since Safeco opened. The issue is will. The failure of will (and talent judgment) have led to a spiral that is difficult to reverse. But not impossible. Felix is a start.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    There is something really special about the King. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it all.

  • Big

    Baseball and golf two of the more optimistic sports I’ve experienced. It’s spring go M’s, go Felix and go golf (I think I’ll skip the golf).

  • RadioGuy

    The Mariners seemed to become “Felix’s team” in collective identity after Ichiro was traded last year…you could almost sense a collective sigh of relief when Ichiro took his persona to New York, allowing Felix to step up and become the team leader Ichiro could never be because he’s just not that type of person. The players seemed to lighten up a bit with an effervescent personality like Felix becoming the straw that stirs the drink.

    This was a great signing and it’ll help with solid clubhouse vets like Ibanez, Morse and Bay coming in because they bring a positive sense of professionalism and leadership to a young team that needs to learn how to win at this level. This is the first time I’ve really been stoked about a Mariners season for some time because I think they could well be this year’s Oakland…I’ve just got this feeling. Pollyanna-ish, maybe, but how many people predicted the A’s would win 94 games and take the AL West last year?