By Amaury Pi-González
Felix Hernández became one of the top pitchers in baseball during the 2009 season, when he went 19-5 with a 2.49 ERA and finished second to Kansas City’s Zack Greinke for the American League Cy Young Award. The King did win some nice consolation prizes, being named Seattle Pro Sports Star of the Year and being honored as the Mariners’ Most Valuable Pitcher by the Seattle chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He also won the Luis Aparicio Award as the best Venezuelan in the Majors, a coveted award named for the only Venezuelan in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and was also the recipient of a not-too-shabby contract extension (five years, $78 million) in January. Felix sat down for an exclusive interview with The Grand Salami during the Mariners’ season opening series in Oakland.
GRAND SALAMI: How does it feel to be a millionaire, to have long-term job security with the Mariners?
FELIX HERNANDEZ: I am happy that I could stay here with the Mariners; this is my team and I am very fortunate to have been able to get to where I am. It’s really a privilege for me to pitch here. For me, it’s not about money. It’s about winning. I know the fans in Seattle want us to be in the playoffs and we need to be in the playoffs.
GS: Last season you had your best year, winning 19 games and giving up less than three runs per nine innings, but you didn’t win the Cy Young Award. In your heart of hearts, were you expecting to win it?
HERNANDEZ: I think I put up the numbers to win the Cy Young, but I understand that these things happen. It was my family that was really disappointed—they were thinking that I was going to win it.
GS: What can you tell us about the progress you’ve made to where you had the breakout season last year? What have you learned that’s made you the pitcher you are today?
HERNANDEZ: I think that I’ve matured as a pitcher. I understand how to pitch to each hitter better than I did before.
GS: You pitched a career-high 2382?3 innings last year. Did you do anything different in the off-season to prepare for the season after taking on the increased workload?
HERNANDEZ: I didn’t do much different this off-season than any other except I worked my body a little more, worked on my strength. I wasn’t any more tired at the end of 2009 than I was after 2008. I threw a lot of innings, but I wanted to throw them. That’s my job.
GS: There are a lot of expectations for the Mariners this season; many have picked Seattle to win the division. What’s your opinion?
HERNANDEZ: They put together a good team here this year. We now have Cliff Lee, a better bullpen, more speed at the top of the order, and we’re also better at the bottom of the lineup than we were last year. Last season was a good season for us, but I think we’re going to be better this year. I think this is our year.
GS: The Mariners get a lot of media coverage, including a large contingent of Japanese media. How is your relationship with the media?
HERNANDEZ: I think it’s very good. I give a lot of interviews, I give some of my time to everybody. I get along very well with the Seattle media, and the media everywhere else, too.
GS: After the season you had last year, what are your goals for 2010?
HERNANDEZ: They’re not so much “my” goals as “our” goals. We are a team, a good team; I just want to stay healthy the whole season and go to the playoffs.
GS: I’m sure that many of your fans would like to know what you like to do when you’re not playing baseball. Do you have any hobbies?
HERNANDEZ: Not really. I spend a lot of time with my kids, my son and my daughter; they take a lot of my time, and it’s great to be able to spend the time with them, especially in the off-season.
Amaury Pi-González, currently the Spanish language broadcaster for the Oakland A’s, is in his 32nd season of broadcasting Major League Baseball games. He has also called games for the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and the Mariners (from 2003 to 2006). He is a proud member of the Cuban Sports Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum and Hall of Fame.