PEORIA, Ariz. — Felix Hernandez never asked to be the face of the Seattle Mariners. It’s not something you can choose. It chooses you when you are one of the most talented and successful players on the team and blessed with charisma.
But unlike Ichiro Suzuki, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., Hernandez didn’t dodge the responsibility. Instead, he wrapped his arms around it the way he hugs his two children.
Be the guy who represents the Mariners? No, problem.
“He does embrace what he means to the Seattle Mariners and the community and the greater Northwest,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “That’s not just about baseball. There’s so much more than that involved. The time he gives to the community, the time he gives to the Mariners and just what he cares about and what is important to him. I think all those things come into play when it comes to what Felix Hernandez means to us.”
So before Hernandez signed his new contract in Seattle and delivered stirring, emotional comments at a press conference that left those watching with goose bumps, his manager and teammates at spring training could only offer compliments and reasons why he deserved a seven-year, $175 million payday.
“It’s nice when good or great things happen to good people,” shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “In the offseason, or whenever asked, I spend more time talking about him as a guy in the clubhouse and how he carries himself. He’s just grounded. You don’t talk about entitlement with him. There’s humility about him. He’s earned it. He’s the King and we’re just happy for him.”
From his fellow pitchers, you will hear nothing but admiration and respect.
“He’s earned that deal,” fellow starter Blake Beavan said. “You look at what he’s done and what he’s accomplished. He’s somebody that puts in the work. He just doesn’t show up and have success. He works.”
When Beavan and other rookies were called up, Hernandez bought meals, offered advice and took care of them.
“We didn’t even ask,” Beavan said. “He just did it. He didn’t have to do it. He wanted to do it.”
Mariners manager Eric Wedge likes to preach about commitment and professionalism. He has the best example in his best player.
“You’re talking about a couple times Felix has chosen to stay here, and now he’s going to be here for a long time,” Wedge said. “I think it says a lot about his character and what Seattle and the Mariners mean to him. But it also says a lot about his belief in the direction this big league club and organization are going. He wants to win as much as anybody.”
Being the face of the Mariners, or any team, isn’t easy. There are requests, responsibilities, duties and they take time and energy. To his credit, Hernandez has understood and accepted all that has been asked, while still performing at an All-Star level on the field.
“That’s why he’s a special guy,” Ryan said. “It takes a special personality to embrace those things and want to be that guy and be able to handle it. There’s a lot that goes with it. People are always tugging at your shirt and all that.”
And yet, Hernandez never complains. He does things because he wants to. It’s what you’re supposed to do.
“You want to shake his parents’ hands, and tell them they did a good job,” Ryan said. “He gets it. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and carries himself the right way. I don’t think there’s anything phony about him. What you see is what you get and there’s not enough of that around.”
KELLEY TRADED TO YANKEES
The Mariners have traded right-handed reliever Shawn Kelley to the New York Yankees for minor league outfielder Abraham Almonte.
After designating Kelley for assignment to make room on the roster for Kelly Shoppach on Thursday, the Mariners had 10 days to trade, release or outright Kelley.
The pitcher, who has value as a reliever, wasn’t going to clear waivers, so instead of losing him without a return, the Mariners traded for Almonte to add to their organizational depth.
Almonte, 23, played 78 games for Double A Trenton in 2012, hitting .276 with 17 doubles, four triples, four homers and 25 RBI with 30 stolen bases. He posted a .350 on-base percentage and a .392 slugging percentage. He has stolen more than 30 bases five times in his career. Almonte isn’t considered a top prospect, but more of a player who can provide depth at the Double A and Triple A levels.Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/mariners @RyanDivish