Enrico Fernando Valenzuela wasn’t named after the legendary pitcher, but he became a Dodgers fan nonetheless.
The 55-year-old truck driver recalls his father, who has supported the team since the Brooklyn days, taking him to the 1974 World Series game. Although the Los Angeles Dodgers lost the series to the Oakland Athletics, that experience was enough to turn the then 6-year-old into a lifelong fan.
Valenzuela said he immediately bought tickets for Friday’s home game against the Colorado Rockies The team announced this in February that it would honor Fernando Valenzuela, one of the most popular players in franchise history, by finally retiring his shirt number 34 as part of a three-day celebration.
He wanted to be there with his wife and kids because his father couldn’t, so the Valenzuelas made the six-hour drive Friday morning from Gilbert, Ariz. to be among the 49,315 fans watching “El Toros” move in the stadium witnessed the hollowed-out ring of honor in a pre-game ceremony.
“He happened to be a Valenzuela and I’m a Valenzuela and that’s just the icing on the cake.” And thanks to my dad up there,” he added, pointing upwards. “Dodger Blue. The sky is blue, isn’t it?”
More than 40 years after the Mexican pitcher’s stellar rookie season in 1981, Fernandomania had once again plagued Chavez Ravine.
“Fernando is the earliest memory I have of my life. It’s part of my family’s culture and I couldn’t miss it today,” said Daniel James Aguilar.
“As a Mexican, he represented us,” added his friend Roberto Muñoz, a 66-year-old who grew up in Monterey Park but now lives in Claremont. “As Angelenos he represented us. As big boys he represented us!”
Aguilar and Muñoz had arrived at Dodger Stadium with other friends more than two hours before the first pitch and had donned their Valenzuela jerseys. Muñoz was quick to point out that he had an autograph session, and recalled getting the signature at a meeting with his father more than a decade ago.
“He was a gentleman and he treated my father like royalty,” Muñoz, whose father passed away last year, said of Valenzuela. “He just means a lot to me.”
At 18:34 sharp, Valenzuela, accompanied by Mariachi, took the field and received a standing ovation from fans and stadium staff. moments before a tribute montage narrated by Morgan Freeman had played on the stadium’s big screens. It tells the story of a young, chubby 20-year-old from Etchohuaquila, Sonora, whose legendary screwball helped the franchise become champions for the fourth time and forever changed the composition of the team’s fanbase.
“For my family, friends and I, Fernando was more than an icon – he was our hero on the hill and he inspired us all, from the South Bay to the Valley, the Eastside to the Westside and beyond. said Senator Alex Padilla (D-California) in a speech.
The young US Senator from California was among the luminaries present to pay tribute to “El Toro”. Others included Jaime Jarrín, the former Spanish voice of the Dodgers and Valenzuela’s longtime friend; Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax; Mike Scioscia, Valenzuela’s former teammate and catcher; and Julio Urías, current Dodgers ace and fellow Mexican.
After the eulogies and video message of congratulations from his family and Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez, Valenzuela walked to the podium and stood while Dodger Stadium erupted in a standing ovation.
“It gives me great pleasure to be a part of the Dodgers for a little over ten years,” he said. “Thank you. Gracias.”
After the game – a 6-1 win for the Dodgers – fans were treated to a Valenzuela-style drone show. As hundreds of machines decked out with LED lights mimicked Valenzuela’s famous night skies, a clip of Orel Hershiser, former Dodgers pitcher and current color commentator for the team, was heard over the stadium’s PA system.
“The day you came, everything changed!”