Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Share Your Memories of Fernandomania

We were recently contacted by Kate Coe, a footage researcher on an ESPN project about Fernando Valenzuela, directed by Cruz Angeles. Kate the Footage Ninja writes:

I'm wondering if you've got any advice for some interesting sources for maybe home movies/videos of LA Latino community, etc. during the 80s, esp. the Fernandomania era.

We're good with the Dodgers, MLB, and all the usual news archives, but I'm looking for rather more personal stuff.

And if you know of anyone who was inspired as a teenager or a kid by him, I know the director is looking for stories, interviews, and anecdotes. For example--I've found a guy in LA who remembers his entire 5th grade class showing up at school in blue batting helmets, (he's got pictures, which is great.)

Certainly we know Fernando is in our hearts as well as those of our readers and colleagues. For instance, let's see what Fernando memories SoSG Sax can share with us:

What I remember the most about Fernando is how he was rolling in 1981--his RoY award-winning year--when the baseball strike happened. Los Angelenos were captivated by Fernandomania, since he hit the sports news like a whirlwind out of nowhere, but what I found most intriguing was the fact that he always looked skyward during this windup. Photo after photo would show Fernando looking up just as he was about to deliver his pitch, and I often wondered, about what was he thinking? Was he praying or looking for divine assistance? Was he concentrating? Or was this just a tic? As an 11-year-old kid, I remember going out to the backyard to try that technique myself. But my pitches never ended up as screwballs darting inside at the last moment. Mine just went into the backyard hedges.

I also recall that during the 1981 season I started clipping pictures out of the LAT and Sports Illustrated to make a "scrapbook" of the key baseball stories that year. Fernandomania had many pages in my scrapbook, which were all bound in one of those old-style sticky-pages-under-peel-back-acetate protectors that they don't even make anymore since they ruin your pictures (and probably cause asbestos-like symptoms, for all I know). But the worst part is--and this is honest--the last page in this scrapbook lists that the teams and players went on strike mid-way through the season...and I never finished the book (despite the fact that the Dodgers won a World Championship that year). That was an easy way for MLB to ruin an 11-year-old kid's summer.

Great stuff, Sax — I wish my memory were that sharp. So how about it, SoSG readers? We know many of you were also wide-eyed kids in the early eighties. Post stories of your Fernando fandom in the comments, or feel free to email us. And help a Footage Ninja out.

photo by Heinz Kluetmeier/Sports Illustrated


Kyle Baker said...

I was an eleven year old kid in 1981 when I started following the Dodgers, both to spite the rest of the Cardinal country fans around me and because the Dodgers were making an eventually successful World Series run that year.

But what grabbed me most about that team was its rookie sensation Fernando Valenzuela. I don't know if it was his melodic name that rolled off the tongue of a kid afflicted with an Arkansas twang, or his trademark delivery style, that confounding screwball, or just his amazing early success, but I was hooked on the Dodgers and Fernando.

Many kids I knew who played Little League in the early 80s were fascinated with Fernando. We would try to imitate his delivery style before the coaches would chastise us for forgetting the mechanics they were trying to teach us.

Vacationing in Los Angeles, my dad took my brother and me to my first Dodgers game in August of 1983. August 5, to be exact. I know because I still have the ticket stub. Fernando pitched and won, beating the Braves and pitching a complete game. We sat in the Left Field Pavilion, which remains my spiritual center at Chavez Ravine. My dad is no longer with us, but I still buy a ticket for that area and sit there on the anniversary of that game if the Dodgers are in town.

I've been an Angeleno since the late 90s, likely inspired to live here after that great trip I took as a young teen. I go to lots of games every season, but I still get a little weepy when they play the Fernandomania montage (complete with the appropriate ABBA "Fernando" soundtrack) on Dodgervision, then Fernando stands up in the press box and waves to the crowd.

Thanks for the great memories, #34!

Fred's Brim said...

I remember I was just sitting in a box in Vero Beach, Florida, when we met the first time. The Dodgers equipment manager and I had known each other for a little while and he introduced me to this young Mexican kid. It was Fernando Valenzuela. He didn't look like a pitcher and I wondered if he'd make it, if we'd fit. I loved his name instantly and then when he pitched he was even better. We developed an instant kinship. I got to go to the games with him and he looked up to me like a big brother. It was a special friendship that lasted many years.

Fred's Brim said...

Great story, DB. I wish I could have seen him back then. I finally got to see Fred when he was a Padre in 96. I was in LA visiting my sister and when I found out he was starting that day, I borrowed her car and braved the 5 at rush hour from the Wilshire area. Amazingly, he was signing autographs down the 1st base line before the game. Sadly, my upper deck ticket couldnt get me down there to see him. He got screwed out of a win that day. Some bad fielding and poor hitting doomed him.

Matt said...

Does anyone have a copy of the ballad "Fernando El Toro" by Lalo Guerrero?

I most recently heard it on an ESPN special about Fernandomania, and want to hear it again!

Orel said...

Wonderful stories, DB & FB. Nice to see the personal connection.

Fred's Brim said...

what happened to Fernando's kid? He was a minor league first-baseman for a while but I lost track of him

Kyle Baker said...


I try always to be that wide-eyed kid that I was in the early eighties; it's what helps me appreciate the game day in and day out.

Orel said...

I think they have a stat for that, Dusty: wWEKORP.

Greg Zakwin said...

I was fortunate to meet Fernando at a caravan event in January earlier this year.

Nice guy, funny. Signed a ball for me and took a picture with me.

Small Sample Size said...

I live in Arkansas and am a Dodger fan. My cousin lives in California and is a Cardinal fan. When Fernando through his no hitter, we were going outside during the first part of the game to try and make pine tar out of stuff my Mom had in the kitchen. Walking outside, I said, Fernando is going to no hit you guys today. He said, "if he does, I will let you hit me in the head with a wiffle ball bat." I have a picture at hime of the mark it left on his head. June 20 something, 1990.

Small Sample Size said...

*at home*

Kyle Baker said...

Hell yeah, SSS, that's the way to do it Toad Suck style!

All Star Carpet Care said...

I was 2, don't remember it.

MeanieBreanie said...

Oh boy, unlike Roger I am really going to date myself with this one. San Antonio used to have a Dodger's minor league team. I remember being in college and getting a call from my exasperated mother who speaks English and German. "Honey, your dad is trying to help one of those baseball players get on his feet and he is letting him stay here for a while. This guy doesn't speak a lick of English. How on earth does he expect me to communicate with him? Is your Spanish strong enough that you can tell him blah, blah, blah"... It was Fernando.

I later went out to LA and stayed several days with a friend who is a former Dodger. There were a number of players and family/friends invited to lunch after a day game. We were in one car, and Nando and his girlfriend Linda who is now his wife were in another. They were in this battered Ford Granada that looked like it was on its last leg with a windshield that had major cracks running throughout. I’m guessing there was no AC as the windows were down on what was a pretty warm day. People on the streets and freeway recognized him and seemed to be in absolute awe and disbelief at the sight. What was cool was how totally unaffected he was by his newfound fame and fortune. The guy loved baseball and was just living his dream. It was evident that he had such a positive and profound impact on people. I have not seen Nando in years but it is my hope that he has still retained some of his innocence.

Kyle Baker said...

That's great, Meaniebeanie!

Fred's Brim said...

Fernando will be hosting an Under the Lights event in August. $500 is pretty steep though. Have I ever mentioned that my birthday is in August?

Casey Lombardo said...

Was just down south visiting my folks over the weekend and my dad gave me this bootleg cap that he bought in Mexico way back during the high days of Fernandomania. Thought it would be appropriate to share here.


And, yes, the back of the cap is indeed mesh!