LOS ANGELES, CA — Tonight the Dodgers retire Fernando Valenzuela’s #34. It has been a long time coming. He signed with the Dodgers on July 6, 1979, and debuted late in 1980. In 1981 he took Los Angeles and its population by storm. Winning his first eight starts, five by shutouts, and finished with a record of 13-7 and an ERA of 2.48 in a season shortened by a player’s strike. He became the first and only player to win both Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards in the same season and a World Series championship. It was the beginning of “Fernandomania.”
He is the youngest of twelve children from Etchohuaquila, a small town in the municipality of Navojoa in Sonora, Mexico. He remains the most famous Latin player in Dodger history. Yes, Manny Mota, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, is special to baseball and, in particular, Dodger fans. Still, there is something about the timing of Fernando’s spectacular rookie season in 1981 that cemented his legacy in Los Angeles. The Mexican community was still very angry about the city giving the land called Chavez Ravine to the Dodgers to build their stadium. Displacing many Mexican Americans from their homes. Evictions were sometimes violent. The Latin communities stayed away from Dodger Stadium.
Fernando made them feel proud to be Mexican. When he pitched, the ballpark was filled as Latinos now joined other Californians who came to marvel at the chubby kid from south of the border.
Tonight will be memorable for all Dodger fans. “It’s going to be a very, very special night,” said Jaime Jarrín, the longtime Dodgers Spanish-language broadcaster. “The people love him. It’s amazing. He left the Dodgers almost 40 years ago, and still, when he’s here, and the people feel that his name is going to be mentioned in some way, they turn to the booth right away and give him a large applause. People love him. It’s unbelievable, and his charisma is very, very, very special.”
Fernandomania has never left this place. It is what has made the Dodgers and the Latin population of Los Angeles and much of California whole. When fans look up at #34 along the third tier in left field now, there will be a beacon of light that will never go out for many fans, a feeling of pride and acceptance.
Fernando Valenzuela and what he did forty-two years ago will live on forever.
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