An hour or so from posting this Felix Hernandez will step on the hill to face off against Mariner teammate Drew Smyly, and Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. It’s a difficult situation for Mariner fans, particularly those of us born into American citizenship.
About two hours or so before posting this, the University of Washington relieved head men’s basketball coach Lorenzo Romar of his position after fifteen seasons, six NCAA tournaments, and, most crucially with regards to his firing, a miserable, utterly failed 2016-17 season.
Lorenzo and Felix are tied in my mind, not for their similarities in career, demeanor, or style, but for being extremely loyal to their teams, and the region I am so happy to call home.
Loyalty is, in sports certainly, and maybe in life, overrated as an attribute. A person can carve out a lot of success in business, poker, sports, social gatherings, and other venues by knowing the right time to walk away. If love is something Don Draper invented to sell nylons, loyalty is something Bo Schembechler invented to win football games.
It’s an exploited concept, and thus one we need to be careful to not hold too near to our hearts, or at least do so with an awareness of the pratfalls. Nonetheless both Felix Hernandez and Lorezno Romar inspire loyalty in me, to a degree that almost certainly negates whatever wisdom I just attempted to espouse.
Lorenzo Romar is an alumn of Washington basketball. A man who built a program, the same one where he grew to adulthood, into a national power by harnessing the incredible talent of local boys like Nate Robinson, Jon Brockman, and Brandon Roy. He took it to heights never before seen, ones it probably could not sustain, at least not with him. By most accounts he is not an exceptionally gifted strategist or student of the modern game. By many more accounts, his players love him, and revere the role he played in their lives.
As for Felix Hernandez, what fresh observation can be observed? A man of generational gifts, plopped into the literal and figurative remotest outpost in all of baseball, Felix squandered the best of his talents for awful Mariner teams. The tragedy of his wasted talent was so clear, written so starkly, that almost no Mariner fan would have demonized him had he demanded a trade, or played out his contract to sign with a better franchise, closer to his native Venezuela.
He stayed. He stayed for money, yes, and comfort and familiarity, yes. But he stayed for something more, something beautifully dumb, which is perhaps the best way I can think of to characterize loyalty. Felix stayed for us, and that is something almost no athlete of his caliber had ever done in Seattle, before.
To win basketball games in 2017 and beyond, admittedly its primary function and goal, the University of Washington may have made the right decision in firing Lorenzo Romar. Winning nine games with the potential 1st overall NBA draft pick in your lineup take a special kind of failure, and the program has not felt relevant this decade. I won’t argue anything about the decision. I’ll choose to be sad, though, because Romar is a good man, a man I would have played for, a man I would have been thrilled to win with, but would have also proudly lost for.
Felix Hernandez facing off against my country, with his Mariner teammate on the mound presents clarity that the Romar situation does not. Due to regional proximity I am a Mariner fan, and due to birth I am an American. But as far as baseball goes, as far as sports go, Felix is my King. He is faded, and far from his full glory, but kings rule for life. When he steps on that hill tonight, I hope he throws 95, embarrasses Giancarlo Stanton and co., and roars off the mound like I’ve seen him do so many times in a Seattle uniform. Long live the king.
The process of choosing how and where and why and who we align ourselves with, who we stand behind, is a process adulthood spiders like a rock to a windshield. Clarity is suddenly sent careening off into one of seemingly endless possible, narrow directions, and we can’t know which one to follow. Worse still, we aren’t allowed the time or context to figure it all out. At some point, we have to choose who we ride with, and decide how long we’ll do so, and how to best balance optimization, and love.
I’ll be with Lorenzo for quite awhile, and with Felix til I die. Carve ‘em up, El Rey. Viva Venezuela.