How did the big-eyed, 17-year-old kid grow up so fast? Now 16 years after seeing Felix Hernandez pitch for the first time with the Everett AquaSox, one can't help but wonder how time flew by like this.
It was the summer of 2003. A group of friends -- we were 14 at the time -- convinced a parent to give us a ride, hopped in a Honda Odyssey minivan from nearby Kenmore, Wash., and went straight for Everett. The $8 deal of a ticket, hot dog and Pepsi was just too good for us to pass up. The ketchup stain on a once-pristine gray shirt was worth it.
There he was. The young phenom in all his glory, ready to put on another show. No one had been this excited for an M's prospect since that beautiful swing and backwards cap took over Seattle years before, with "The Kid" Ken Griffey Jr. making countless youngsters fall in love with the game. Now, after 15 glorious years with the Mariners, King Felix is gone and has found a new home in Atlanta. After 418 starts and 169 wins, our Venezuelan hero has flown away.
Putting what Hernandez meant to the city is difficult. Yes, no one will forget his perfect game in 2012, his six All-Star Game appearances, or his unforgettable 2010 campaign which brought the Cy Young award to the 206.
Perhaps what most will remember him for, though, was his loyalty. The Mariners haven't made the postseason since the 116-win season in 2001. Felix's first full year up in the bigs was 2005. The fact that his greatness has never seen the postseason is depressing. It's unfair (thanks Jack Zduriencik).
Back in February of 2013, the tears flew down his face after he signed his seven-year extension with the team. Sure, he had 175 million reasons to be happy, but those tears were also of appreciation. He loved Seattle. It was his first home after leaving his home in Venezuela. The city welcomed him with open arms. You could see just how much being able to stay in the area with his family meant to him.
Those same tears broke our hearts this past fall when he made his final start for the club. Teammates couldn't keep it together when the call to the bullpen was made. Once Felix took of his cap to salute the fans and you saw his emotional face -- who could?
The writing was on the wall for Felix. After years of dominance, he just didn't have the same stuff and it was clear Seattle wasn't going to bring him back. It sucks seeing your childhood heroes get old, doesn't it?
At the same time, The King is 33 and has newfound opportunity with the Braves. He's not going to win the Cy Young or make the NL All-Star team. But after a strong Spring Training, during which he went 1-1 with a 1.98 ERA in 13.2 innings pitched, he reminded us all he's not done just yet.
Come late September, if there's MLB action, Hernandez will be itching to help Atlanta get to the playoffs so he can taste that atmosphere for the first time. After winning back-to-back NL East titles, Atlanta and its large group of superstars will be poised to go on a deep postseason run in 2020 and do everything they can to capture the franchise's fourth World Series championship.
Trust us, you'll have thousands of Seattle natives emotional should this happen. Our No. 34 deserves to end his career the right way. If that has to happen with the Braves, so be it, baby.