Player of the Week: Fernando Valenzuela
Fernandomania and Mexicano Pride
Fernandomania, that has a ring to it doesn't it? Who knew that a lefty Mexican pitcher would bring so much pride to Los Angeles. Yet, there he was, about to prove everyone wrong and all coming from a background you never really thought of and become one of the great legends the game of baseball will never forget.
Fernando is the youngest of twelve kids, all born in a small town in the state of Sonora, Mexico. He was born on November 1st, 1960. into a humble family who lived on a farm as big as a baseball infield. Growing up, Fernando was often questioned about his age. Working on a farm in the hot sun took a tole on his appearance. He was known for always looking a bit older than his actual age but as he got older, he became known for his very peculiar windup and devastating screwball.
Fernando was discovered pitching in a dirt field as a teenager by legendary Dodgers scout Mike Brito. Despite not knowing a word of English and never having played organized ball, Fernando moved up quickly through the minor leagues. After being called up to the bigs in the fall of 1980, Fernando was pressed into emergency service on opening day in 1981 when scheduled starter Jerry Reuss pulled a calf muscle. It was Fernando's first major league start, and he was only 19 years old. He became the first pitcher to win the rookie of the year and CY Young award in the same year. This sky rocketed a demand of Fernando baseball trading cards all over the country and the world.
Over the next decade, Fernando became one of the most dominant hurlers in the National League. In 1986 he had a particularly outstanding year, going 21-11 to finish second in Cy Young voting, and in 1988 he helped the Dodgers to another World Series title. In the late 1980s, however, Fernando began to lose velocity off his fastball. All the innings he had thrown began to take their toll - from 1981 to 1987 he had been in the top 3 in innings pitched every year except '83 (when he was still 5th). But even more damaging was the fact that throwing a screwball is one of the most unnatural motions you can make with your arm. After eight seasons of utter dominance, Fernando fought elbow troubles throughout the 1988 season, and never seemed quite the same again.
Fernando married and eventually had four kids of his own. He and his family would spend the offseason between cities in Mexico, keeping connected to his roots and culture. One of his sons, Fernando Jr., would grow up and play MLB with the SD Padres and Chicago White Sox as a first baseman.
Valenzuela became a US Citizen on July 22nd, 2015 here in Los Angeles where his whole career started. Before that Fernando was inducted to the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame in August of 2003. Even though his number is not retired, the Dodgers Clubhouse Manager has kept number 34 out of circulation of being used out of respect for Fernando.
Fernando was an instant icon here in the city of Angels not only because of his talents but because the Latino people finally seen someone like them and could relate to him on a more personal level. He brought a sense of hope and pride to Latinos, particularly the Mexican community, here in Los Angeles and thus started “fernandomania” . Fernandomania was what us Mexicanos called it. Mexicans were excited and proud to see their culture finally being represented here in Major League Baseball.
Fernando Valenzuela has brought together communities of Mexicano pride and continues to do exactly that even after his baseball career has ended. He now is the Spanish broadcaster for the Los Angeles Dodgers and recently threw out the first pitch of Game 2 of the 2017 World Series with colleague and friends Vin Scully and Steve Yeager. The roar of the stadium was almost chilling in a sense of just hearing everyone know that El Torro himself was there on such a memorable occasion.
Most ballplayers do not realize the impact they have on a person, community or city. Even with the roar of the crowds, the fans are the epitome of the game. We see our favorites play the game and see ourselves in them. We see our countries being represented and see that we have made it. It has always been that sense of pride, especially in the Latino communities. As a race, us Mexicans, hold so much pride for our native country that we are automatically proud the minute we see that one of us has made it big. Whether it be in politics, sports or even the day a Mexican is elected President of the United States, we acknowledge anyone that we feel that has has made a positive impact on us and our community that we feel is worth feeling a sense of pride for.
Fernando Valenzuela has done exactly that and that is what makes Fernando Valenzuela this weeks Player of the Week. From making it out of the barrio, to coming to a new country and pursuing a career that would ultimately allow himself to be viewed as a significant part of the Chicano society not only here in Los Angeles but across the country. I had the chance to meet Fernando once and let me tell you that it was one of the most memorable highlights of my life. I met him at a golf course near my house, and he was in the middle of a game working on his putt game rather than his screwballs. He now lives quietly and waits for baseball season every year to start again so he can go behind the mic.
- Jackie Ramirez