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February 12, 2013 at 2:00 PM

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Felix Hernandez shows commitment to fan base in need of an icon

Kurt Wagner is a reporter with Fortune Magazine in San Francisco. He grew up in Brier and continues to support all Seattle sports from the Bay Area. Follow Kurt on Twitter: @kurtwagner8

Felix Hernandez should never again pay for a drink in the city of Seattle. Ironic, of course, considering The King will become the highest-paid pitcher in the history of baseball, agreeing to a five-year extension that will pay him a total of $175 million over the next seven years.

But the decision by the Mariners to extend Hernandez's contract represents more than a financial commitment to the team's only superstar. More important, it represents a commitment from Hernandez to a fan base in desperate need of an icon.

For more than a decade, Mariners fans have watched the losses pile up and Safeco Field's attendance boil down to only the most dedicated of fans. Payroll has dwindled and the team's owners have made fewer appearances than Manti Te'o's girlfriend.

But the city's abandonment issues go back even further: think Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez. Even Cliff Lee's short stint as a Mariner served as a fresh reminder: Baseball superstars don't want to play in Seattle.

Until now.

Felix Hernandez wants to pitch for the Mariners. Even reading that sentence is enough to cause a smile to sneak across a Seattle fan's face. The Mariners are paying an arm and a leg to keep their ace on the team.

The new contract, according to reports, will contain a clause to protect the Mariners in case Hernandez suffers significant elbow issues, and the contract will likely hurt more financially on the back end than it will ever help in the team's win column without a solid supporting cast. General manager Jack Zduriencik paid Felix the kind of money usually spent by contending teams, not ball clubs still years away from a serious playoff push.

But this move is about more than keeping a fist-pumping, perfect game-throwing All-Star pitcher on the roster. It's about keeping OUR fist-pumping, perfect game-throwing All-Star pitcher on the roster. Felix has baffled pundits the way his changeup baffles opposing batters.

He is choosing to forego more money, more media hype, more wins -- and possibly a championship -- to spend his career with the only team he's ever known. That's loyalty.

Mariners fans should chalk this up as a victory much greater than locking in the team's ace, who turns 27 on April 8, for the next seven years. If Seattle's good enough for The King, perhaps it's good enough for other top-tier talent as well.

Now's the time for Mariners management to show that a new contract for Hernandez is just the beginning. Now's the time to take advantage of a farm system beginning to harvest homegrown talent, and a world-class ballpark that's truly the "Emerald" of the Emerald City.

Now's the time for Mariners management to make a renewed commitment to Mariners fans.

King Felix already has.

If you'd like to write a Take 2 post, email Sports Editor Don Shelton at dshelton@seattletimes.com or sports@seattletimes.com


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