ESPN's Buster Olney is on vacation this week, but he's still compiling roundups. View his latest roundup here.
I don't know exactly when my grandfather, a construction worker by trade, fell in love with baseball. For as hard as he worked, it never occurred to me that there would be enough time for anything except rest preparing for the next day. But I can still see him listening to the games lying down. And now it all makes sense. I don't know when he became a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, but I can remember when I did.
It was the summer of 1967. My friends and I used to play baseball in front of Russell Walker's house. He and I both lived in cul-de-sacs. I didn't realize until much later that cul-de-sac was just a fancy French word for dead-end street.
When I saw my grandfather's gray, four-door Pontiac (with a black vinyl top) coming down the street, it usually meant I was in trouble for staying out past my curfew. But that couldn't be it today. The street lights hadn't come on yet. We all stepped aside to let the car circle the street. As he drove by, his driver's-side window rolled down, the smell of Pall Mall Reds wafting from inside the car, he looked at me and said, "Get in."
We drove north up Interstate 5, and I tried to figure out where we were headed. My first clue was seeing the Stadium Way exit. It was about a mile and a half up Elysian Park Avenue.
I'll never forget seeing Dodger Stadium for the first time. Little did I know that going to Dodger games would become a tradition for my family.
By the end of the 1980 season, the impact of Fernando Valenzuela had caught everybody off guard. Throwing almost 18 innings of shutout relief was insane, and the reaction of all Dodger fans was like nothing I had ever heard before.
But wait, Valenzuela: That's us. This guy looks like us. He could pitch, he could hit and when he ran, he looked like he was barely going to make it to first base -- just like us.
That great move of looking to the sky before every pitch added to his identity. "Who doesn't look at home plate when he's pitching?" you could overhear people say.
My grandmother would say, "He's asking God to help him throw a strike, huh, George?" To which I would reply, "Yeah, Grandma."
Starting the season 8-0 caught the city by surprise. It was almost impossible to get a ticket. But the night that Valenzuela single-handedly beat the San Francisco Giants by driving in a run and shutting them out? I was there, sitting high up in general admission.
That was also the night a female fan in a Valenzuela shirt ran on the field, caught Fernando off guard with a kiss and then raised her arms high in the air. We all raised our hands in the air and pumped our fists, too. It was impossible not to take the ride with Valenzuela.
He was the subject of what appeared to be every conversation. It got so crazy that instead of people believing he was 20 years old, there was talk that he was in his 40s. No 20-year-old could possibly be that good. Plus, he was born in Mexico and didn't have a birth certificate. That was hilarious.
My grandmother worked nights at the time. One morning, I woke up and saw a Fernando Valenzuela T-shirt, hat and button on the counter. I couldn't figure out where they came from. When I asked my grandmother, she said, "Oh, there was somebody selling them at work."
Wait, there was somebody selling Fernando Valenzuela stuff at a factory in Van Nuys, California?
That's how crazy Fernandomania was.
News conferences before a game were unheard of. But Valenzuela would have them and back them up with a win. I can't remember a time before or since that I wouldn't miss a game either on television, radio or in person.
Valenzuela galvanized Dodger fans with both his talent and his playfulness. Seeing him kick around a baseball in left field like it was a soccer ball was something fans would go early to watch.
Manager Tommy Lasorda would even use him as a pinch hitter. There was nothing Valenzuela couldn't do.
Fernando made us believe that no matter where we came from or what we looked like, talent was the equalizer. He did this by showing us, not telling us; he's not comfortable with accolades, which is why I find a way to sneak it in. I've never forgotten what I learned from Valenzuela, and it has helped me become another "living proof" example.
I've gone to Dodger Stadium with regularity in the years since Fernandomania. Every time I go, I remember my grandmother and grandfather and how much fun we used to have cheering and feeling proud every time Valenzuela did something great.
My seats now are a lot better than my 75-cent ticket to the left field pavilion, but nothing is better than looking out from the seats behind home plate and imagining them both still out there.
I've known Fernando for a few years now. When we're both on the field, we always make a point of saying hello. He's a great guy, and I'll always find a place to tell him how much he's meant to me over the years.
And then the conversation will switch to how much we both love golf.