It happened so suddenly…..
this no more talk of resurrection and red sea crossings…
this no more bird chirp dawns of spring…
this no more kids playing whiffle ball in suburban backyards…
this no more spring training number 99 who? playing shortstop…
this no more violet bulbs on branches bursting a wild rush gush of green.
this crucible we’re in.
i got that worry, that paranoia. I bought a lot of food, but in my panic i bought spicy hot dogs that are messing with my stomach. i’m failing this test so i close my eyes and watch my body walk real slow, slide across the wood floor a sort of moon walk. Along the way, I pick up a rubber ball and slide some more, towards my bedroom wall. I stand on a makeshift mound, a stack of underwear or an old newspaper and I exhale nice and slow. I throw that rubber ball. I’m Tiant’s 180 degree tango one pitch. Fernando’s heavenly glance the next, and then Pedro’s three quarter, Dave LaRoche’s eeuphus,
Kent Tekulve submarine and so on…
Tim Lincecum’s cupped ball…..Brandon Woodruff over the top and holy crap he can hit too, whacked a home run off Kershaw in the 2018 playoffs and so I dream of a bat in my hands and long for a pitcher to bring it on and suddenly i don’t know what time it is or what day and death doesn’t matter, for a few minutes anyway.
Fernandomania was very much a mania. The 1981 craze was both elation and sadness. Fernando Valenzuela was born in Navajoa, Mexico. Poverty would be an understatement to describe his humble beginnings and miracle seemed fitting to describe his new Mexican throne at Dodger Stadium.
But long before The Dodgers discovered Fernando and before Dodger Stadium even existed, the area known as Chavez Ravine was home to three Mexican-American communities; La Loma, Palo Verde, and Bishop. The City of Los Angles razed homes to build Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers desperately wanted a Mexican superstar just like Brooklyn wanted a Jew and just like Branch Rickey warmed up to Negro League players. Some call it exploitation-human trafficking. Others view it as common sense. Give people what they want. Give em what they are and they’ll fill up seats and owner’s pockets. Everybody wins.
The Dodgers found Fernando and Fernando pitched his ass off. He won the rookie of the year and Cy Young in 1981. He led the league in strikeouts and oh yeh, the Dodgers won the World Series.
Some remember Fernando as the little Mexican southpaw who threw a screw ball in the most unorthodox fashion; twirling and contorting and sending his eyes skyward like someone in the midst of an epiphany on every pitch. And some remember the Mexican neighborhoods destroyed so Dodger Stadium could be built. One way or the other, Fernando got everyone’s attention.
Meanwhile, a few hundred miles south in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico another southpaw was striking out batters.Teddy Higuera didn’t wow Dodger scouts, but he got the attention of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Brewers signed him in 1983 and two year later, he won 15 games, earned rookie pitcher of the year and became the new ace of the Brewer’s pitching staff.
Higuera began as a 27 year old. He pitched 1600 fewer innings than Valenzuela, but was as good or maybe even better than the Dodger legend with a lower career WHIP, more strikeouts per nine innings, fewer walks.
Even when he won 20 games in 1986, there was no hype about him being from Mexico. Of course, he didn’t blaze onto the scene like Fernando and there was no razing of a Mexican neighborhood to make room for the Brewers to play. He was simply the Brewer’s ace and within five years, arguably the best pitcher in franchise history.
Who knows if the Higuera experience resulted in the Brewers signing another Mexican born pitcher-Yovani Gallardo nearly 20 years later. He also became the ace of the Brewers staff, but still not a peep about Mexico. Yet, any discussion of all time great Brewer pitchers includes both Higuera and Gallardo and any discussion of greatest Mexican born pitchers includes them both as well.
Six years later in 2010, the Brewers claimed Marco Estrada off waivers. He too was born in Mexico and he too has established himself as a fixture in the Brewers rotation. And then this past Sunday the Brewers signed Matt Garza to a four year contract. The right hander wasn’t born in Mexico, but he is of Mexican descent.
Maybe it’s all superficial. Who cares where players are from? There’s no guarantee ex-patriots will automatically get along, but then again, they are strangers in a strange land.
Milwaukee’s Mexican neighborhood extends west and south from the four sided Alan Bradley Clock. Mexican Spanish is in storefronts and spoken in bars. There’s a Mexican feast in the summer and even a Chorizo rep in the Miller Park Sausage race. He goes by the handle “Cinco” and wears a sombrero. Cheesy? Racist?
Well, the other four sauasages are as follows; Bratt Wurst wearing green Austro-Bavarian ledrhosen, Stosh the Polish in dark sunglasses and a rugby shirt, Guido the Italian in chef’s attire, and Frankie Furter the hot dog in a baseball uniform. More cultured folk say it’s degrading, childish, and corny. People in Milwaukee just call it Milwaukee.
Mexicans first immigrated to Milwaukee in 1925, fled during the Great Depression and then returned in the 1950′ when Milwaukee lived up to its reputation as a great place for manufacturing jobs. And now there are two Mexican born pitchers in the Brewers starting rotation and a third of Mexican decent.
Maybe it doesn’t make a hill of beans difference. But a season is long and pitchers hang on the dugout plank together, like pigeons. They feed on each other’s momentum. I like the odds a little better when the starting staff share something…anything in common, especially with the St. Louis Cardinals living in the same division.
It’s the same as the break room at work. When there’s a little bit of love, we all seem to work faster and more efficiently; chain gang style, heave and ho, whistling, having fun.