Enrico Fernando Valenzuela wasn’t named after the legendary pitcher, but he became a Dodgers fan anyway.
The 55-year-old truck driver recalls how his father, a supporter since the team’s Brooklyn days, took him to 1974 World Series game. Though the Los Angeles Dodgers lost the series to the Oakland Athletics, the 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 after the team announced in February that it would honor Fernando Valenzuela, one of the most beloved players in franchise history, by finally retiring his No. 34 jersey number as part of a three-day celebration.
He wanted to be there with his wife and children because his father couldn’t, and so the Valenzuelas made the six-hour drive from Gilbert, Ariz., on Friday morning to be among the 49,315 fans who witnessed “El Toro’s” induction into the hollowed Ring of Honor in a pre-game ceremony.
“He just happened to be a Valenzuela and I’m a Valenzuela and it’s just icing on the cake. And props to my dad up there,” he added, pointing his index finger upward. “Dodger blue. The sky is blue, right?”
More than 40 years after the Mexican pitcher’s stellar 1981 rookie season, Fernandomania had once again struck Chavez Ravine.
“Fernando is the earliest memory I have in life. He’s part of the culture of my family, and I couldn’t miss today,” said Daniel James Aguilar.
“As Mexicanos, he represented us,” added his friend Roberto Muñoz, a 66-year-old who grew up in Monterey Park but now resides in Claremont. “As Angelenos, he represented us. As big guys, he represented us!”
Aguilar and Muñoz had arrived at Dodger Stadium with other friends more than two hours before the first pitch, donning their Valenzuela jerseys. Muñoz quickly pointed out that his was autographed, recalling that he got the signature at a meet-and-greet he attended with his father more than a decade ago.
“He was a gentleman and he treated my dad like he was a king,” Muñoz, whose father passed away last year, said of Valenzuela. “He just means a lot to me.”
At precisely 6:34 p.m and accompanied by mariachi, Valenzuela walked onto the field to a standing ovation from fans and stadium employees. Moments before, a tribute montage narrated by Morgan Freeman had played on the stadium’s big screens. It retold the story of a young, pudgy 20-year-old from Etchohuaquila, Sonora, whose iconic screwball helped earn the franchise its fourth championshi, and forever transformed the makeup of the team’s fan base.
“For my family, for my friends and for me, Fernando was more than an icon—he was our hero on the mound, and he inspired all of us, from the South Bay to the Valley to the Eastside to the Westside and beyond,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) in a speech.
The junior U.S. 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 laudatory speeches and the video message of congratulations from his family and Mexican boxing legend Julio Cesar Chavez, Valenzuela walked to the podium and stood there as Dodger Stadium erupted into a standing ovation.
“It’s a great pleasure for me to be part of the Dodgers for a little bit over 10 years,” he said. “Thank you very much. Gracias.”
After the game — a 6-1 victory for the Dodgers— fans were treated to a Valenzuela-themed drone show. As the hundreds of machines equipped with LED lights re-created Valenzuela’s famous wind-up in the night sky, a clip of Orel Hershiser, former Dodgers pitcher and current color commentator for the team, could be heard through the stadium’s PA system.
“The day that you came, everything changed!”