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Fans go crazy for Felix in King's Court

Fans go crazy for Felix in King's Court

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Fans go crazy for Felix in King's Court
SEATTLE -- When Felix Hernandez pitches at Safeco Field, something rather peculiar happens.

Embedded in the now-rowdy left-field sections of 149 and 150, you will find jesters juggling, a juicy turkey leg, and high school kids sporting gold crowns with red robes. Among the inhabitants are newborn babies, a 63-year-old Larry Bernandez, and season-ticket holders who have abandoned their seats elsewhere to join in on the fun.

Welcome to King's Court.

"We have a Cy Young Award winner pitching for us this year," says Gregg Greene, Seattle's director of marketing. "We wanted to look for ways to make Felix's starts an event."

An event? This is more like a revolution. For Hernandez's past five starts at home, this energetic Felix fan club has made more noise than the entire stadium combined, and has established itself as the latest Seattle sports craze.

"I've been to Wrigley Field, Nationals Park, PETCO Park, Dodger Stadium, and I haven't seen anything like this," said lifelong fan Baldwin Poolio, who rocks a Burger King mask in King's Court. "This is the best."

My view from the press box could do no justice. I had to embed myself within the sea of yellow and find out what this new phenomenon was really all about. On Wednesday, for the fifth installment of King's Court, I finally got my chance.

So slip on your bright-yellow T-shirts, hold up your K signs, put on your crowns and get ready for some fun.

This is the King's Court experience.

***********

12:10 p.m. -- Gear up

The buzz is building just 30 minutes before King Felix takes the mound. Members line up at the top of the Court to pick up their yellow "KING" T-shirts and "K" strikeout posters, both free with the $30 ticket. Several fans curiously pass by, wondering how they can get the T-shirt and be a part of the action.

I run into Roy, a vendor who has been working at Safeco since its opening in 1999. He has seen hundreds of different promotions at the park, but King's Court is something else.

"Tops them all, no doubt," he says. "Number one."

12:50 p.m. -- You're in the K Zone

King's Court is sold out and packed at first pitch. Felix is on fire early, and they rise to their feet almost immediately.

Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the section is when Hernandez has two strikes on a batter. The fans stand together, raise their yellow "K" posters high into the air and together, like an army, chant, "K!K!K!K!K!"

Hernandez begins the game with two straight strikeouts and the decibel levels increase in left field. It's tough to not notice King's Court rising up as one whenever Felix has two strikes on a potential strikeout victim.

"Every time somebody gets two strikes, they go absolutely crazy," said Mariners outfielder Greg Halman. "Even the guys on the other team, you see them smiling, looking over."

1:00 p.m. -- Turkey time

Carrie Kingston, wife of Seattle assistant general manager Jeff Kingston, knew King Arthur's Court involved turkey legs, so why not include them at Safeco?

Good idea.

David Dekker is the executive chef at Safeco and now preorders turkey legs just for King's Court. The Mariners select what they think is the craziest fan for every Felix start, and Dekker hand-delivers a hot turkey leg on a silver platter during the middle of the first inning.

"Royalty always gets the bigger drumstick, you know what I mean?" Dekker says.

Today's lucky winner is 63-year-old Bill Tildwell of Everett, Wash. He's decked out -- jersey, pants, hat, fake facial hair from Display and Costume -- as Larry Bernandez, the fictional character born in a Mariners commercial earlier this year.

Dekker serves up the turkey leg. Tildwell holds it high into the air and proceeds to take a massive bite, while his fellow King's Court members chant, "Lar-ry, Lar-ry, Lar-ry."

I pinch myself. This is way too much fun for a baseball game.

3:15 p.m. -- King goes down, fans still happy

Two hours pass, as I meet a jester, two more Larry Bernandez look-alikes, and four guys with white horseshoe mustaches that call themselves the "Wedgies." No joke.

The King's Court was loud and in full support all afternoon, but Hernandez couldn't get it done on this afternoon, giving up five runs in 7 2/3 innings of work.

Yet it seemed nearly everyone still had a blast. With the yellow foam King's Court crown still wrapped around his head, 12-year old Jonathon put it best.

"It really had a lot more spirit about the Mariners," he said. "The other areas, they weren't as excited. We were yelling and cheering and trying to start a wave and everything."

3:30 p.m. -- Supreme Court next?

As fans leave of King's Court, I wondered what the future holds for this unique fan experience.

"You are just seeing the fans take this and make it something that we could never even dream it could become," said Greene, who thought of the idea while on a run. "I'm excited to see how it develops over the year."

Will it keep growing? Reliever Shawn Kelley sure hopes so.

"Just look at how crazy King's Court goes in just two sections -- imagine the whole stadium like that in a game for Felix," said Kelley, who refers to it as the "Supreme Court." "Freakin' yellow everywhere, 46,000 fans in yellow. Whew! That would be fun to be involved with."

Hard to imagine something even better and more fun than what's going on now, but the way this has been catching on, anything seems possible with King's Court.

Taylor Soper is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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