SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez, the longtime face of the Mariners, was wearing a broad smile Monday after becoming a United States citizen along with 74 other residents from 34 different countries at a ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Tukwila, Wash.The 32-year-old Hernandez first came to
SEATTLE -- Felix Hernandez, the longtime face of the Mariners, was wearing a broad smile Monday after becoming a United States citizen along with 74 other residents from 34 different countries at a ceremony at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Tukwila, Wash.
The 32-year-old Hernandez first came to the U.S. at 17 after being signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela by the Mariners in 2003. His wife, Sandra, passed the U.S. citizenship test last month and Hernandez joins her now as an American citizen.
"This country gave me everything," Hernandez said. "Just to be loyal to the United States and the Mariners, it's a dream come true."
Hernandez said he and his wife had discussed becoming citizens for a long time after living in the country as permanent green card residents. There's a five-year waiting period after being granted a green card, then applicants must take the citizenship test where 10 questions are selected out of a possible 100 queries and it takes six correct answers to pass.
Hernandez said he went with Sandra last month when she passed her test and was asked if he wanted to take the test as well at that time.
"I said, 'All right, let's do it,'" he recalled. "But I didn't know anything about the history of the United States. I think I got one right, about the president. I was prepared for this one."
Coming in second in that race served as a little motivation, as it turned out.
"I was a little ticked," he said with a laugh. "I didn't talk to her in the car on the way home. But she was really happy, too."
Hernandez said the current political unrest in Venezuela made the decision easier, but he'd already begun talking about becoming a U.S. citizen before his home country became so volatile.
Hernandez's Mariners teammates arranged for "God Bless the U.S.A." by Lee Greenwood to be playing when he walked into the clubhouse before Monday's game against the A's. One teammate, Nelson Cruz, is currently studying to take the citizenship test next month.
For Hernandez, the event turned out to be a bit of a media spectacle as several TV cameras and reporters were at the ceremony.
How many of the 74 other people being sworn in knew who he was?
"Pretty much everybody, because of all the cameras," Hernandez said. "People were like, 'Who's that?' The girl next to me was looking at Google and said, 'Oh my God, you are Felix.' Thanks to you guys, we had a lot of cameras in there. I had to take more pictures.
"But I knew it was going to happen. They asked me [about making it public] and I said yes because I wanted to enjoy this moment."
Mariners line up new Low-A club
The Mariners will have a new Minor League affiliate next year as the club announced a two-year contract with the West Virginia Power of the South Atlantic League to serve as their Class A franchise starting next season.
The Mariners recently ended a 10-year association with the Clinton LumberKings of the Midwest League.
This will be the first time the Mariners have had an affiliate in the South Atlantic League, having been aligned with Midwest League clubs back to 1981.
The Mariners will be the seventh different Major League team to have been the parent club for West Virginia. The franchise previously was connected with the Pirates (2009-18), Brewers (2005-08), Blue Jays (2001-04), Royals (1999-2000), Reds (1990-98) and Cubs (1988-89). The Power play their home games at Appalachian Power Park, in Charleston, W.V.
The Mariners now have contracts with all seven of their Minor League affiliates for next year: Triple-A Tacoma in the Pacific Coast League, Double-A Arkansas in the Texas League, Class A Advanced Modesto in the California League, Class A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, Short Season Everett in the Northwest League as well as the Rookie Arizona League Mariners and Rookie Dominican Summer League Mariners.
Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB.