I apologize for the hiatus – getting my son ready for pre-k and then adapting to his schedule took more out of me than I expected. I’m back, though. Here’s something on Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez:
It was 1985. Dwight “Doc” Gooden was taking New York by storm that summer I was all of a precocious 13 years old. The Internet and all of its glorious reference capabilities were decades away. In fact, my parents had given me an Apple IIc, with its glorious 256 color palette the year before. It even had a floppy disk drive in the side. Neat-O! (Yes, we actually said things like that back in that era). When I wasn’t watching the Mets on TV, I was on that computer playing games and occasionally typing up essays for my high school class – my word processing program didn’t have spell check, though… the horror!
I knew that Gooden was having a fantastic season, but even with things like Bill James’ Baseball Abstract, I couldn’t comprehend how good he was. It was like my teenage mind couldn’t quite comprehend what a season for the ages I was witness to. I had no real yardstick to compare it to – I was too young to appreciate Ron Guidry’s stellar year in 1978 (I was 6 and counting wasn’t even my strong suit) and Bob Gibson was just a name the announcers kept saying when talking about Gooden.
As I got older, I began to appreciate pitching more and more. Like the late Bob Welch’s amazing 1990 season. Then I had one of the best sporting experiences of my life – living in Boston in the late ’90s, when Pedro Martinez held the city in thrall every time he took the mound. I remember him pitching against the Yankees and he gave up a homer to Chili Davis. That only served to make him mad -he struck out 17 New York hitters that night, on Sept. 10, 1999. I remember Darryl Strawberry going up as a pinch-hitter late in the game… and he could have had one of those telephone pole bats that the brutes used in that Bugs Bunny cartoon, but he still wouldn’t have been able to touch Martinez’s stuff. It was that ridiculous.
So, having seen Pedro has allowed me to fully understand the greatness of Felix Hernandez – the subject of this piece, in case you hadn’t figured it out. Hernandez, who like Gooden, came up at a precocious age – 19. He’s one of those pitchers that I utilize my MLB.TV subscription for – I’ll watch any of his starts when I can. Even on those nights when he’s pitching in Seattle at 10:00 pm and I have to get up at nearly 6 am. Sleep deprivation’s worth it sometimes.
He used to be a hurler, but now, especially since he’s harnessed a change-up that he’s able to throw three different ways, he’s a master on the mound. There’s a good reason why there’s a section of Safeco Field called The King’s Court.
There’s only a handful of pitchers that I’ll tell my son that I was able to watch live – he’s four now and is pretty much laser-focused on Sesame Street – 1985 Gooden, 1999 Martinez, Greg Maddux of the 1990s (that guy was a wizard too) and now Hernandez. It’s stunning that he’s only 28 now too. Who knows what I will be recounting just under a decade from now? I look forward to finding out.