Buoyed by the news that Felix Hernandez would be on the mound, I ventured into Safeco Field on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2010, for its first MLB experience in the Pacific Northwest.
A little background:
Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners’ ace, pitched for Seattle’s then Single-A minor-league affiliate, the Inland Empire 66ers, in 2004. I covered several of Hernandez’s starts during this time for The Sun (San Bernardino, Ca.) Newspaper, so his start on Sunday afternoon was a pleasant surprise.
The intention of FOMB’s visit to Seattle was not centered around the Mariners v. Indians game but an indie rock concert later that night, at the Emerald City’s Paramount Theater.
I’ve attended other pro baseball games in Washington State, so the blog’s first statement, “first MLB experience in the Pacific Northwest,” is technically true — to a point. As a teenager visiting my grandmother in Yakima (Wash.), there were many summer nights spent at Yakima County Stadium watching the Los Angeles Dodgers Single-A affiliate Yakima Bears.
View a short video from the game here.
The weather could not have been more pristine for a ball game. Temperatures were in the mid-to-high 60s with a slight breeze coming in off the Puget Sound. There were few clouds — just enough to cast a shadow here and there.
Hernandez (11-10) was practically unhittable on Sunday, allowing just four measly base hits over eight innings. He struck out nine with a combination of 95 mph fastballs and sharp breaking stuff. He definitely looks like a Cy Young award winner. A total under 15 wins will limit his chances.
The Mariners are actually littered with players from that 66ers team on which Hernandez pitched, which is either a good thing or bad thing depending on how one looks upon their record since ’05 (436-514); Jose Lopez has an all-star game appearance to his credit, and Ryan Rowland-Smith has been serviceable major-leaguer.
If that wasn’t coincidence enough, even the Mariners’ newest manager, Daren Brown, was in San Bernardino in 2004. He was recently brought in last after the team fired Don Wakamatsu in August.
So there I was watching the 2010 Mariners — managed by Brown and led by Hernandez — refining their minor-league experiences from San Bernardino into a major-league approach.
Did I get into the clubhouse after the game like I did in ’04? No. But there was a real, palpable connection to this game. After all, I’ve had many awkward conversations with some of these people (Hernandez, Lopez) while also having pleasurable, lengthy conversations with others (Rowland-Smith, Brown).
And really? Does anything say, “you’re an insider” like having Felix Hernandez tell you, as an 18-year-old Spanish-speaking baseball player to a 24-year-old reporter, “Whatchu talkin’ ’bout?” because his mastery of the English language isn’t nearly as sharp as the bite on his curveball?