For all the hype and promise that accompanied the prodigal Felix Hernandez – the organizational scouting report when he was a 16-year-old that spoke of Hall of Fame stuff, the increasingly hysterical scrutiny as he shot up through the minors, and the testimonials from stunned hitters after he broke into the majors at age 19 – King Felix faced a crossroads after the 2006 season.
He had reported to camp in February 2006 at 246 pounds – 16 pounds over his target weight. Some within the Mariners camp feared that all the nonstop adulation was leaving Hernandez with a sense of entitlement that could slow down his development.
On the field, in his first full major-league season, he had his comeuppance – a 12-14 record with a 4.52 earned-run average in 2006 that provided the first real adversity of Hernandez’s previously blessed baseball career.
His response has become an integral part of the Hernandez folklore. Mariners personnel were visibly stunned – and ecstatic – when Hernandez returned to Seattle in January after wintering in his native Venezuela. He was lean and muscular, his weight down to 226 and his motivation to achieve the predestined greatness no longer in question.
And now, having achieved the pitching pinnacle last year by being named the American League Cy Young Award winner (he was second to Zack Greinke in 2009), Hernandez is still working, driven by a hardened motivation to maintain, and extend, his greatness.
Hernandez heads into his sixth full season today when he starts against Oakland in the M’s season opener. What particularly delights the Mariners is that Hernandez has bought in completely to the franchise’s rebuilding efforts, despite their struggles. In fact, he is asserting a visible leadership role.
And when media speculation increased this spring that the Mariners could be tempted to trade him, he told anyone who would listen that he doesn’t want to go anywhere.
“I’m so happy here,” he reiterated. “I like the organization a lot … I don’t want to move anywhere.”
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