Felix Hernandez has spent most of his Seattle Mariners career serving as one of the franchises' few bright spots, and so it was fitting that he was front and center when 2013 spring training opened.
The 26-year-old right-hander officially signed a seven-year, $175 million contract with a few dozen media members looking on at Safeco Field on Feb. 13, ending almost a week of speculation. The deal, which was first reported by USA Today a few days earlier, was reportedly tied up by concerns about Hernandez's elbow. However, on the day Hernandez used his right arm to officially sign the deal, both he and general manager Jack Zduriencik shrugged off the notion of any injury concerns.
Zduriencik said Hernandez had a "clean bill of health. (Team doctor) Ed Khalfayan is very comfortable; he said (Hernandez) could pitch his whole career and never have an issue."
Hernandez tried to deflate the injury talk as well.
"I'm totally healthy," he said. "I'm fine."
With a huge smile, sparkling earrings and a small entourage that included his wife and two children, Hernandez wasn't going to let anything change his mood during the press conference at Safeco Field. He promised to live up to the contract and added that his longtime dedication to the weight room and offseason conditioning should keep his arm healthy -- despite an inordinately heavy workload for a 26-year old (1,620 1/3 career innings).
"To the people in Seattle that trust me and believe in me, I'll say this: I'm not going to disappoint anybody," an emotional Hernandez said. "I'm going to do my best. This Seattle Mariners team is going to be on top. Believe me."
Hernandez reported to Peoria, Ariz., for the opening of spring training, then flew up to Seattle that night to attend a press conference and official contract signing the following day. He was back in Peoria a few hours later.
His arrival in Seattle was met by dozens of Mariners employees, dressed in yellow King's Court T-shirts and waiting outside an elevator to applaud Hernandez and his new deal.
"It's a great thing for the Seattle Mariners," Zduriencik said. "It's a great thing for Felix Hernandez."