I’ve never thought of Seattle as a town that does heroes. At best, we’re aloof; at worst, we’re sardonic and quick to turn. (Russell Wilson, anyone?) But every rule has an exception, and our exception is Félix Hernández.

King Félix. You’re probably familiar with the stats: 15 years with the Mariners, 2729 innings pitched, 2524 strikeouts, 169 wins, 25 complete games, one massive grand slam

You probably know the story: scouted in his native Venezuela, signed at 16, began his career in Everett a year later. The MLB debut at 19. The Cy Young Award, the King’s Court, the perfect game. His 2019 farewell, when 10,000 fans in matching gold T-shirts sobbed in unison as he left the pitcher’s mound for the last time. 

But the magical thing about Félix is how he became part of all of our stories, too.

Most sports fans in Seattle have an anecdote about where they were on August 15, 2012, the day Félix threw Major League Baseball’s 23rd-ever perfect game. Some listened breathlessly on the radio; some rushed to the ballpark when they realized what might be about to transpire; some gathered in groups of strangers and friends to crane their necks up at televisions in sweaty summer bars. I was at home on my couch with my husband, who I will forever tease about having a ticket to that game and choosing not to go. But the reason my husband stayed home was that I was literally, precisely nine months pregnant—and though my son took almost two more weeks to arrive, he knows that he was due on Perfect Game Day, and through this story, Félix also became part of our family lore.

A flag for Félix. Christian Parroco

Still, the question remains. Plenty of athletes have accomplished great feats here. Why does Seattle, so stingy with our affections, so averse to hero worship, love Félix the way we do? It’s hard to say for sure, but I’m inclined to think it’s simple: Félix loves us back. 

Félix didn’t just play baseball in Seattle; he made himself a part of the community. He volunteered for the Humane Society and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He visited children in local hospitals and was a spokesman for anti-bullying and anti-domestic violence campaigns. In a video shown Saturday night, Mariners clubhouse employees told how he helped with laundry and attended their weddings. 

But his most special relationship of all was with the fans in left field, where his cheering section, the King’s Court, made their home. King’s Court and Félix had an almost symbiotic relationship, gathering together every five home starts to feed off of each other’s energy. Sitting in the Court was exhilarating and exhausting, the standing and the chanting and the cheering leaving you breathless, but Félix’s triumphant chest pounds and appreciative points in your direction made it all worthwhile. In his final moments as a Mariner, Félix famously climbed up onto the outfield wall and became one with his court, raising his hands in a pose of triumph as grateful and disbelieving fans surrounded him and held him up.

Ken Griffey Jr. takes the field for Félix Hernández's induction ceremony. CHRISTIAN PARROCO

A-Rod left. Ichiro got traded. But Félix stayed, for all 15 of his MLB seasons. As he raised the flag atop the Space Needle to kick off MLB All-Star Week earlier this summer, Félix referred to Seattle as his hometown. “All of the highlights I have in my career are here,” he told the media last Friday. “And what I have with the fans is something special… Every time I jumped on the mound, I’d just do more than a hundred percent. A thousand percent for them.” 

Saturday night the Mariners honored that thousand percent, those thousands of innings, thousands of strikeouts, and those 15 years by making Félix the 11th member of the Mariners Hall of Fame. A charming 45-minute ceremony attended by Mariners front office brass, other Mariners Hall of Fame members, and surprise guest Adrián Beltré was capped off by Félix donning his starched navy Mariners Hall of Fame jacket and taking his place officially among Seattle legends. A literal formality, of course, but a touching one.

After all the pomp and circumstance, there was still a baseball game to play. And this one was a doozy. Rising Mariners ace George Kirby threw a stunning 9 innings of 3-hit, no run, no walk ball, coming in just shy of a Maddux at 103 pitches. Unfortunately, the Mariners, facing old enemy Cole Irvin, couldn’t score any runs in the first nine innings either, and so the game went to the tenth. 

Because The Narrative must always be fed, pitching the last two innings for the Orioles was Félix Bautista, a terrifyingly effective 6’8” closer who Baltimore’s social media team have, to the furor of Mariners fans, been calling “The New King Félix.” It was hard not to feel a sad and eerie poetry when the Mariners failed to match Baltimore’s tenth-inning run and lost 1-0; not just because of Bautista, but because excellent Mariners pitching performances with no run support are known colloquially as “Félix games.” In fact, the last Mariners pitcher to throw nine or more innings and still see the team lose? Félix Hernández, on July 26, 2013.

Still, we mustn’t dwell, no not today, not on Félix Hernández day. The Mariners are doing fine. And this weekend a town without heroes got to celebrate a King. 

Every person in this photo is crying probably. CHRISTIAN PARROCO

A few minutes after 6 pm on Saturday, as the angled sunlight striped the outfield grass, the bullpen doors opened and The King emerged in a cloud of celebratory smoke, “The Man” by Aloe Blacc played one more time and 45,000 fans in matching gold T-shirts sobbed in unison. It took less than 30 seconds before Félix was crying too. He watched from a literal throne as the video board played tribute videos from Mike Trout and Mitch Haniger, and as Mariners owner John Stanton recited all the awards and statistics that don’t tell the real story.Then our King approached the podium to a deafening chant of “K”s. His own speech was brief but from the heart, thanking “the amazing Seattle fans and the King’s Court. You are the greatest fans in the world. I love you guys.”

We love you too, Félix. Long live the King of Seattle.

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