ESPN The Magazine

King Felix reveals his photographic memory of pitches in ESPN The Magazine

Making a makeshift mound

The Mag’s photo editor, Nick Galac, was on site for the cover shoot and provided the following background (and photos above): “We were unable to shoot Felix on the field due to the timing of the game on our shoot day, so our photographer James Michelfelder [pictured shooting in the top photo] built a pitcher’s rubber out of wood at his father’s woodshop in Albany, N.Y. and carried it on the plane to Seattle. When he got to Seattle, they got a roll of carpet to complete the quasi-pitcher’s mound. Earlier in the day, we shot plates of Safeco Field that were later composed in post for the cover and action shots, although in the end we did not wind up running.”

In ESPN The Magazine’s “Pitching Issue” – currently on newsstands – senior writer Kevin Van Valkenburg goes behind the scenes with Seattle Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on his quest to deliver his team to the playoffs – one perfect pitch at a time. In “The Untouchable Felix Hernandez”, Van Valkenburg follows “King Felix” through one of the most pressure-packed starts of his career. He provides Front Row with insight into what makes Hernandez so fascinating:

What can you share about your experience with “King Felix” that readers would be surprised to learn?
Felix has an incredible memory of every pitch he throws during a game. During our interview, I asked if he could take me through each of his at bats with [Los Angeles Angels slugger and 2014 American League MVP] Mike Trout, and tell me what he was thinking as far as pitch selection. I initially thought we might sit and watch a replay of each at bat on my laptop, but Felix could remember every pitch, almost like he was watching a replay in his head. When I fact-checked them on MLB.com pitch-by-pitch sequence, he was exactly right. He could remember every changeup, and the location of every fastball.

I initially thought we might sit and watch a replay of each at bat on my laptop, but Felix could remember every pitch, almost like he was watching a replay in his head.
ESPN The Magazine’s Kevin Van Valkenburg on Felix Hernandez

What do you hope readers take away from your piece?
My hope is that the reader comes away feeling like I conveyed that special magic you feel in the ballpark when a great pitcher takes the mound. It’s an event. There is energy in the air. People can’t help but lock in on Felix. Even the Angels feel it. I watched [Angels manager] Mike Scioscia stare at Felix for several minutes, with no runners on base, looking for ways to decode him, searching for any kind of tell. A great pitcher is magnetic.

Are there any interesting anecdotes or experiences you had while covering Hernandez for this piece?
Felix and I talked about his son, Jeremy, a little bit after I watched them wrestling in the clubhouse. He said Jeremy is a great baseball player, but he’s a slugger, not a pitcher like his dad. One of the things Felix told me is that his mom can’t bear to watch him pitch. She gets too nervous, so even if she’s watching games on TV, she’ll change the channel when he’s on the mound.

But Felix loves watching his son just crush line drives in his little league. Later, I was hanging around in the tunnel outside the clubhouse of Safeco Field, and Jeremy and some other kids of Mariners’ players were goofing around, playing Nerf baseball and Jeremy was blasting the ball. Look out for him someday.

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