Full disclosure: I am not quite a lifelong Dodgers fan.
Growing up an hour and a half outside of Cincinnati, the Reds were my team of choice as a kid. They were my team of choice both due to proximity and due the fact that my father was a fan and had been since he was a boy. The first time I was taken to Riverfront Stadium, however, wasn’t just to see the Reds. The Dodgers were in town and my father was excited for me to see a young, unorthodox left-hander from Mexico who threw a pitch that at the time fueled my 6-year-old imagination with both mystery and wonder: the screwball. A pitcher whose name seemingly stretched from coast-to-coast. Fernando Valenzuela.
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The day was August 9th, 1983. A Tuesday. I remember the day because I kept the ticket stub in a scrapbook for years afterward (later lost unfortunately). Summer vacation was coming to a close and I would soon be starting second grade, but school might as well have been something that took place on another planet in another solar system at that moment. All I cared about was the game. Seeing players live for the first time after only watching them on TV was dreamlike.
Mario Soto, a talented pitcher in his own right, started for the Reds. He threw a complete game and the Reds won 5-4. Fernando pitched well. He didn’t get the win, but the fever had spread. Fernandomania had already saturated most of the baseball world by then, but for me it was all new. And I was hooked. The rock star from the West Coast with the lyrical name had arrived to grace the sleepy Midwest with a grand performance.
I bring up this story because this year’s Dodgers Yearbook commemorates the 34th anniversary of the debut of number 34. The yearbook includes stories and photos covering the career of El Toro as well as an entire section in his own words.
Call to the Pen
It seems impossible that 32 years have passed since that night. It still feels like it could have been last week. Decades have gone by, I now live in Los Angeles, and I have my own offspring to whom I hope to pass along my love of baseball. And every time I see Fernando on TV, hear him on the radio, or see another tribute to him like the 2015 Yearbook, I’m instantly transported back to that warm evening in Ohio, a murmuring crowd chattering like children, my dad enthralled by the game as much as any other little boy. And the calm in the eye of the storm out there on the mound, weaving his magic like a modern day Merlin with a mop of black hair. The purveyor of dreams, the conjuror of spells. Fernando.