LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Fernandomania” broke out again 42 years after first taking hold at Dodger Stadium and spreading nationwide.
The Dodgers retired Fernando Valenzuela’s No. 34 jersey on Friday night before hosting the Colorado Rockies. His number was cut into the center-field grass and stenciled in white on the back of the mound.
“It’s very emotional,” Valenzuela told a crowded room of English and Spanish-language media before the ceremony. “I never expected it.”
Retired pitcher and current broadcaster Orel Hershiser and retired Dodger Manny Mota lifted off a blue cloth to reveal Valenzuela’s number high above the field.
Fans, some wearing sombreros, were on their feet cheering, along with Valenzuela’s children and grandchildren. He held hands with wife Linda as they walked down the left-field line to watch the unveiling.
Earlier, a mariachi band broke out in music and song as Valenzuela was introduced and walked from the dugout to the stage set up in front of the mound.
Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, Valenzuela’s catcher Mike Scioscia, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jaime Jarrín and current Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías were among those on hand. The 87-year-old Koufax didn’t address the crowd.
Valenzuela and Scioscia appeared on a Topps baseball card in which they were labeled future stars. After his playing career, Scioscia managed the Los Angeles Angels.
“It seems like yesterday when this little pudgy kid who was 20 years old started opening day for us and lights the whole world on fire,” Scioscia told the crowd. “What you couldn’t see was the ice water in his veins. He proved how spectacular and magical everything was.”
After the ceremony, Valenzuela tossed a first pitch to Scioscia, who bobbled the catch and buried his face in his glove.
The Rockies watched from the railing in the visitor’s dugout, while some of the Dodgers were on the field warming up and a few looked on from the dugout.
Earlier in the day, the 62-year-old Valenzuela was in downtown Los Angeles, where the city council declared it “Fernando Valenzuela Day.”
The activities were part of a weekend-long celebration of one of the most enduring and popular players in Dodgers history. Valenzuela was the theme of the postgame drone show.
On Saturday, the team is giving away his bobblehead, and on Sunday, the giveaway is a replica of Valenzuela’s 1981 World Series ring.
Valenzuela became a sensation that year. Besides winning the World Series, he won Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award, the first player to do so in the same year.
He was named the Opening Day starter that year by manager Tommy Lasorda after Jerry Reuss got hurt a day earlier. He responded with a 2-0 victory over Houston, beginning the season with an 8-0 record, including five shutouts, and an 0.50 ERA.
“Tommy Lasorda came up to me and said, ‘Are you ready to pitch tomorrow?’ I said, ‘I’m ready,'” Valenzuela recalled. “That’s what I was looking for, the opportunity to show what I can do.”
Valenzuela’s pitching motion — glancing skyward at the apex of each windup — was a hit, too. His signature pitch was the screwball, taught to him by teammate Bobby Castillo in 1979.
During his warmups, ABBA’s hit “Fernando” blared from the speakers.
The native of Mexico was credited for drawing large numbers of Latino fans to Dodger Stadium and they nicknamed him “El Toro” — the Bull. He proved a huge draw on the road as well.
His number joins previous honorees Pee Wee Reese, Lasorda, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Jim Gilliam, Don Sutton, Walter Alston, Koufax, Roy Campanella, Jackie Robinson, Don Drysdale and Hall of Fame broadcasters Vin Scully and Jarrín.
Valenzuela and Gilliam are the only non-Hall of Famers among the Dodgers’ retired numbers.
Jarrín “helped me a lot early in my career talking to you guys,” Valenzuela said, referring to the translation the broadcaster did for English-speaking media.
Besides Lasorda and Jarrín, Valenzuela also credited Mike Brito, the scout who in Mexico found the left-handed pitcher, for boosting his career. Brito died last year at age 87.
Valenzuela also won the 1988 World Series with the Dodgers, as well as Silver Slugger awards in 1981 and ’83. He pitched for the team from 1980-90, including a no-hitter on June 29, 1990. He retired in 1997.
Valenzuela has stayed close to the franchise. He is the color commentator on the Spanish-language broadcasts for its SportsNet LA cable channel.
He remains among the franchise leaders in wins (141), strikeouts (1,759), innings pitched (2,348 2/3), starts (320), complete games (107) and shutouts (29).
Valenzuela became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2015.
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