Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Caribbean Series to Be Played at Fernando Valenzuela Stadium

The Caribbean Series action begins on Friday with Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico hosting the event.  Friday also will be a special day for Dodger hero Fernando Valenzuela will throw out the ceremonial first pitch in “Estadio Sonora,” which is to be renamed “Estadio Fernando Valenzuela.” ( Article in Spanish announcing the renaming of the Stadium Linked HERE) The ball park has been modernized and remodeled for the Winter classic that will feature, Puertos Rican Representative, Los Criollos de Caguas (with Manager Alex Cora) , Los Leones de Escogido, Dominican Republic (that will feature Hanley Ramirez), Los Navegantes de Magallanes, Venezuela and Los Yaquis de Obregon, Sonora, Mexico. 
Final remodeling touches being completed on Hermosillo ballpark.
 Carribbean Series action begins on Feb. 1st.

Fernando Valenzuela, a Sonora native out of a tiny dusty town of just a few families, named  Etchohuaquila, is a true hero to the region.  Dodger scout Mile Brito discovered him by accident, travelling among the circuits of the Mexican Central League, looking for a shortstop by the name of Ali Uzcanga, (now there’s an answer to a trivia question).  He watched a game in the town of Silao, Guanajuato.  

This 1978 Mexican League game played before a one hand clapping no show crowd in Central Mexico featured Fernando pitching.  He struck out 12 batters that night and Brito forgot about the shortstop.  Brito contacted Al Campanis and Al took a trip to Mexico the next year after Brito continued to insist that he had found something special.  Eventually, for $120,000, the Dodgers purchased Valenzuela from the Puebla ball club that Valenzuela was pitching for the following year in 1979.

We all have heard the story of Bobby Castillo teaching Fernando the screwball and his miraculous rookie year.  But few know of Fernando’s first few years in the Mexican League in ’78 and ’79.  As an 17 year old kid pitching in Guanajuato, when Mike Brito found him, Fernando was 5-6, with a 2.23 ERA.  In the shortened season who was amongst the league leaders with 91 strikeouts.  

Fernando was recognized as something special in Mexico and sold to the superior Puebla club the next year where he continued to excel as an 18 year old.  A victim of poor run support, Fernando went 10-12, with a 2.49 ERA, striking out 141 batters.  Al Campanis wanted him and Puebla resisted for several months before finally relenting to Brito’s wishes and $120K.  Mid year, Fernando was at Single A Lodi where his 1.13 ERA moved him up to AA San Antonio the next year.

Last year, when I had the opportunity to briefly interview former Dodger outfielder/first baseman, Mike Marshall, he said this when remembering Fernando and his rise through the minors to his major league debut.

1983 Dodgers photo with Mike Marshall and Fernando Valenzuela in top row, Greg Brock in middle.  Steve Sax and Pedro Guerrero seated.

  “Quick story.  I’m in Reno, Nevada.  I’m playing for the Lodi Dodgers and I’m 19 years old.  It’s a half an hour before the game and they tell us that we signed a kid out of Mexico, he’s 19 years old and he’s pitching that night and I’m playing first base.  It was Fernando Valenzuela.  He had hair down to about here, (points to his shoulders). Big long black hair.  He didn’t speak a word of English.  He was from somewhere in Mexico and Mike Brito had signed him.  He threw about 90 MPH.  He had a curve ball.  I think we got beat that night.  It was nothing special.  It was towards the end of the season.  

“So we went to Spring Training the next year and Bobby Castillo, a Mexican-American, right handed pitcher, taught him the screwball.  And the next year we went up to Double A in San Antonio and it got a little more interesting,  He still didn’t speak any English.  He’s still drinking his Budweiser.  He’s 20 now and Hershiser was on that staff.  And all of a sudden he’s lights out.  He’s up to the big club.  He didn’t even go to Triple A.  Next year there’s a bunch of injuries coming out of Spring Training and this kid could flat out pitch. With a screwball, change up, threw over 90 MPH.  He’s a heck of an athlete and he’s the guy.  That was another move by Al Campanis.  He had no fear.  You know Freddie didn’t even go to Triple A, he pitched opening day against the Astros, I think he struck out 12 or 13 guys and threw a 3 hitter, and Fernandomania starts.  

“You know, to see him at 19 and then the changes at 20.  It just shows you that one pitch, just one little change, what can happen.  And then to be a Mexican American pitching in Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine.  The year the Dodgers won in ’81, I got called up at the end of the year.  But to be a part of that.  And then to experience something very similar with Orel Hershiser with dominating, dominating performances.  It was special.  

“I must say though if I say anything negative about Tommy, I think he over-pitched him.  Fernando got a little afraid of his stuff about mid-way through his career and his pitch counts were in the 150s and 160s.  He was afraid to throw in the middle of the plate and his stuff wasn’t quite as good.  Tommy would just leave him out there and leave him out there and got Fernando burned out a little bit.  Fernando was treated much like the Japanese treat their guys.  They just keep them out there and burn them out a little bit.  But we didn’t have much of a bullpen and Fernando wanted to keep going out there.  But I would say, if there’s anything negative, and I love Tommy, but I would say he I thought he overused Fernando a little bit in his mid twenties and I think it took a toll on his career.”

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