A GRIP ON SPORTS • How good a memory do you have? If I were to say February 13, 2013, would you remember how important that day was? How about I give you a hint. Felix Hernandez. Read on.
• Last night, Felix picked up his 146th win in a Mariners’ uniform. That’s the most by any pitcher in franchise history. Ever. It is also the only major league uniform Felix has ever worn. He is really the King when it comes to Seattle pitchers. But it was the date I mentioned in the opening that really set him apart from anyone else the M’s have ever had. And that includes Junior, A-Rod, anyone. That was the day Felix Hernandez, at the time the best young pitcher in baseball, told the world he always wanted to be a Mariner. The day he signed a seven-year, $175-million contract extension with Seattle. The day the kid from Valencia, Venezuela let it be known he was comfortable staying in a city as far away from his roots as he could get. The day Mariner fans still feel he committed to them. It was a strange feeling. Loyalty. (OK, there was $175 million involved, but in this day-and-age in baseball, that’s loose change compared to what Felix could have pocketed elsewhere.) Commitment. A sense of continuity. As bad as the Mariners’ drafts have been over the years – Dustin Ackley and Jeff Clement anyone – they have taken two of the best talents of my lifetime: Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. And they traded for a young Randy Johnson long before he realized his hall-of-fame potential. But all three players had one thing in common: They all wanted out of the Emerald City. Junior forced a trade to Cincinnati. A-Rod took off for much-greener pastures. The Big Unit flipped the off switch until he was traded. For whatever reason – a new stadium that didn’t fit, the seeming unavailability of performance-enhancing substances, ownership foibles – they wanted out of Seattle. To M’s fans it felt as if they were abandoned. Unloved. The other guys. Then along came Felix. Not only did he do things no other Mariner pitcher had ever done, he wanted to continue to do them here. Lead the league in wins? Felix did that in 2009 with 19. Pitch a perfect game? He did that. And the next off-season re-upped for seven more years. He was the first homegrown superstar to blossom here young and stay here as he became old. Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. Felix just turned 30. He’s not exactly old. Sure, his fastball doesn’t have the life it once had but he’s developed other pitchers – his changeup is as good as Warren Spahn’s in his heyday. He may not strike out 10 a game anymore – he holds the M’s record with almost 2,200 in his career – but he still figures out a way to keep Seattle in games. He’s a polished pitcher with a lot of life left. And though he only has those 146 career wins – if the M’s had an offense of, say, the 2001 M’s, he might have 200 wins by now – he is still the winningest pitcher in franchise history. And No. 1 in M’s fans’ hearts.
• WSU: Spring football is over throughout the conference and there were things we learned. Things like the Cougars are all set at the most important position. And that the conference is up for grabs. Even Washington State has a strong shot at the title. ... Mike Leach isn’t the only sports figure to grab onto the Donald Trump train. And should we even care? ... The Cougar logo won a nationwide poll recently.
• Chiefs: The WHL finals return to Seattle with the Thunderbirds facing a 0-2 hole against Brandon in their best-of-seven series.
• Mariners: Ketel Marte (pictured) has been swinging a hot bat. But last night he outdid himself with four hits, including a tie-breaking three-run home run that lifted the M’s to a 5-2 victory over Tampa Bay. ... Taijuan Walker says his neck is feeling better and he expects to start Wednesday. ... American League player of the week Robinson Cano and the rest of the M’s don’t see a reason they can’t keep playing this way all season.
• Seahawks: When the Hawks signed free agent Brandon Browner recently, it seemed obvious he wasn’t coming back to be a cover corner. They had to have other plans for the guy. And they do. To quote one of my favorite radio guys, I think I had that. ... There were more roster changes yesterday.
• A little-know fact about Felix. His first major league home run was also the M’s first dinger by a pitcher. And it wasn’t just a home run. It was a grand slam. The guy has a bit of flair, doesn’t he? Until later ...