By Josh Kerns
If there were any doubts about how Felix Hernandez feels about Seattle, they were washed away in a wave of tears at an emotional news conference Wednesday at Safeco Field.
The 26-year-old broke down soon after he began speaking at the gathering to announce his new 7-year, $175 million deal, making him the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.
Felix Hernandez breaks down in tears at the signing of his new contract Wednesday at Safeco Field. (AP)
"Oh man, I need a minute," he said as he took a deep breath and tried to compose himself while thanking everyone from the Mariners and Safeco Field ground crew to his family.
"To all the people in Seattle that trust me, that believe in me, I want to say this. I'm not going to disappoint anybody. I'm going to do my best," Hernandez said tearfully.
"This is a great day in Seattle Mariner history," said Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik. "When I came here I realized we had a great pitcher and through this whole process I said on many occasions we had no intentions of trading Felix Hernandez. And Felix had made it very clear to a lot of people he wanted to stay here in Seattle."
That was evident throughout the news conference, as Hernandez repeatedly expressed his affection for the city and the team. And while he could have easily played out his contract and gone elsewhere for more fame and fortune, he insisted there's no where else he'd rather live and play.
"I don't do this because I care about the money. I do this because I care about the people in Seattle. I do this because I love this city," he said.
Zduriencik said the deal is fully guaranteed and includes a complete no-trade clause, the first in Mariners history. And he disputed reports from over the weekend the team found problems with Hernandez' elbow that put the deal in doubt.
"You can sign anybody to any kind of contract and there's always a risk to it. And I think we got to the point where you realize this young man is 26 years of age, he's completely healthy [...] and I think you look at what he's done even physically to keep himself in shape," he said, adding team doctors gave Hernandez a clean bill of health.
The contract does include some protections for the Mariners if Hernandez misses a full season with elbow problems. But Zduriencik said there were never any doubts on either side.
"This is our guy. We know him better than anybody and he was raised in this organization and I think when you have that right in front of you those are the type of marriages I think you'd really like to have as opposed to trying to go do something with someone you don't know quite as well."
"I'm totally healthy, I'm fine," Hernandez said emphatically.
Hernandez backed his contract with some big promises, vowing he would lead the Mariners back to the playoffs soon.
"We've got a lot of young guys in the minor league system, they're going to be good. We've got a lot of young talent when they get experience man we're going to be tough, we're going to be tough to beat. That's why I believe in this. We are going to be one of the toughest teams in the league," he said.
Hernandez plans to head back to Arizona for Spring Training Thursday, where pitchers and catchers reported earlier this week. And despite the pressure that will come with his new contract, he insists he's ready.
"I'm not going to disappoint anybody. I will do my best. It's going to be the top."