The King Felix Experience

TACOMA - For those of you who have minds like steel traps, "firsts" are probably no big deal. My mind functions more like a wicker basket, so memorable sports firsts are few and far between.

I remember Ken Griffey Jr's first at bat in the Kingdome, my first Washington Husky football game with my old man, and my first double on the Junior Varsity "B" squad in the 8th grade. Other than that I pretty much draw a blank.

I think though, that I can add a new "first" to that short list - my first ‘Felix' experience.

Like many fans, I have blogged, speculated, argued, and otherwise giggled like a school girl about the future of Felix Hernandez, but I had never actually seen him pitch in person. Needless to say, I had formulated some fairly defined ideas about what I could expect to see when I finally got around to seeing him pitch live, and for a split second, I was completely disappointed.

First of all, for those of you expecting a young Randy Johnson, you're way off. I know this because that was what I expected despite all the media I had seen to the contrary. Felix is a rather stocky, 6-foot-3 or so, poofy haired kid, and nothing about his appearance would indicate anything out of the ordinary. I could liken him to Pedro Martinez, but only because they both have silly haircuts.

He is certainly nothing like an Arthur Rhodes on the mound looking like he's preparing to capture his next meal. In fact, it looked to me like he was so comfortable on the mound that he might pull up an easy chair and watch the game go on around him. He almost looked bored throwing his warm up pitches and might as well have been weeding the garden.

Then he reared back and fired his first pitch - a ball, followed by three more pitches out of the strike zone. I was thoroughly unimpressed. So much for the future of the franchise. And now I'm wondering why I drove all the way down to Tacoma to watch some teenager who looks nothing like the Big Unit, or even the Little Unit for that matter.

Then, the King decided it was time to throw the switch.

He aced the next two batters with his first two strikeouts of the night and ended the inning with an easy groundout. Suddenly my faith was restored.

Over the course of the next five innings, I tried to watch Felix from just about every angle I could find. The press box, first base, behind the plate, the parking lot…you name it. But it only got better each new angle I saw. Aaron Sele on his best day couldn't throw a curve with so much break. I could now officially climb aboard the Felix Hernandez bandwagon.

Cheney Stadium is a great place to watch baseball anyway, but with Felix on the mound, you get the feeling anything might happen.

Felix scattered five hits over 5.1 innings, struck out eight on what some would consider an off night. Indeed it did seem like there was always someone on base but only then did the inning start.

More than the blazing fastball and the biting curve, the thing that really blew me away was how Felix kicked the intensity up a notch anytime he got himself in a jam. His fastball busted in tighter and his curve bit harder whenever a runner stood on base.

Very few pitchers today have that ability. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling come to mind. Pedro, the Rocket. Freddy Garcia did it on occasion as a Mariner, but King Felix was doing it every inning. I almost felt more confident that the Rainiers would emerge from the inning unscathed when the Area 51's had a runner on base, as opposed to there being two outs and an empty set of bases.

Eight strikeouts over 5.1 frames, no runs allowed.

This was an off night?

I'm not on the "promote him tomorrow" bandwagon, but folks, this kid couldn't be more ready if he was 30-year-old. Felix is going to get hit around some when he reaches the big show. Inevitably he is going to try and blow one by Manny Ramirez who will knock the ball into next week, but the thing I am most eager to see is how many Red Sox he strikes out in response.

A lot has been written about the Great Felix Hernandez. We've all seen the prospect rankings, the magazine articles and web blogs. We all know how good he is and it's all true - but do yourself a favor.

Pack up the family and take a trip to Cheney Stadium and watch Felix pitch, because 20 years from now you'll remember your first "Felix Experience," and it will be something you may never forget.

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