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Felix Hernandez played catch today and took part in fielding drills with his Mariners teammates for the first time since signing an historic seven-year, $175 million contract extension earlier this week. It’s been an exhausting, roller-coaster couple of weeks for Hernandez, who has been jumping in airplanes and starting and stopping his training ahead of arriving in camp last night.
The Mariners plan to take things slow with Hernandez, which is why he wasn’t out there throwing any bullpen sessions today like other pitchers have been doing since Wednesday. With the World Baseball Classic set to prolong camp this year, the Mariners say they aren’t in any hurry to rush Hernandez’s routine.
Hernandez is eager to get the process behind him and start playing baseball again. He figures it will take “a few days” to get into the swing of things, but is ready for it to begin.
“It’s a big thing for me, because it’s not in my mind anymore,” he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and do my best.”
Hernandez said the whole ordeal was “tough” — even the press conference, when he was overwhelmed with emotion after getting off a Safeco Field elevator and seeing team employees break into an ovation as he exited.
“It was hard not to be crying,” he said. “After the other day, in the elevator, with all the people there and to see my wife crying, it was hard for me.”
Hernandez said a few of the Latin American players have given him a hard time about the tears, but his teammates have mostly been fine with it. It was an emotional day, one in which he thought about his parents, his young family and where he came from in Venezuela. In the video above, you can see some shots from the trip I took to his childhood home inValencia in 2006. You can see Hernandez with his wife (girlfriend at the time), his parents and his daughter, Mia, who was still a toddler at the time.
There has been some criticism in Venezuela of Hernandez’s decision not to play in the WBC.
“Some guys have said good things about me, some guys no because I said no to the WBC,” he said. “You know, it’s my own decision. I just want to be here with my teammates after this and they’d better understand.”
“It was my decision,” he said. “I felt the best thing for me was to stay here with my teammates. Because this is a big deal. This is a big deal. So, it’s better for me to be here with those guys.”
I asked Hernandez how much of a sense of responsibility he now felt towards the organization — fror example, choosing to stay in camp with the Mariners rather than go to the WBC — because of the massive financial commitment made to him.
“I’ve always been responsible with this team because of the way they’ve been with me and everything they did for me,” he said. “I don’t think I’m going to change. I’m going to be the same guy I was before.”
Hernandez was asked about how much he’s embraced being the face of the franchise. Not every player is as comfortable with that.
“I’ve always been comfortable here,” he said. “At some point, I knew it was going to happen (becoming the franchise face) but I’ve always felt comfortable here. Maybe there was one year…but it’s always been on my mind. I’ve got to do my best and be the face of the franchise.”
I asked him what he thinks being the “face” of a franchise entails.
“On the field, I don’t have to do anything (different),” he said. “I’ve just got to go out there and do my best and pitch my games.”
And off the field?
“Whatever they ask me to do, I’ll do it.”