LOS ANGELES—When waiting to pick up my credentials, badges and cross through the security throng to get into Dodger Stadium yesterday, there were a handful of people who casually walked to the ticket window looking to get into tonight’s game.
No one was turned away because the games weren’t sold out. In fact, even now after Billy Ray Cyrus sang the National Anthem and Shane Victorino and Matt Stairs heard the loudest boos during the player introductions, there were big pockets of empty seats all over beautiful Dodger Stadium.
More notably, I didn’t spy a single well-known celebrity out on the field before the game unless Frank Robinson counts.
In other words, the ballpark is definitely too good for the LA fans. They have great weather, great food, plenty of things to do whenever they want and all day to do them. That’s why baseball seems to be nothing more than a casual thing here. Unlike in Boston, New York, Chicago and Philly, it’s not life and death.
“I tell the players they should all play in the northeast at some point then they wouldn’t be so sensitive,” the notoriously insensitive Dodgers’ third-base coach and former Mr. Phillie, Larry Bowa said. “”It’s not life or death here. Nobody’s going to jump off a bridge.”
They probably won’t egg a players’ house after a bad game, either.
“There are so many movie stars here and so many things to do that the Dodgers are like fourth or fifth,” said Californian Jimmy Rollins. However, Rollins was quick to point out that he was really from California.
“No movie stars,” he said.
The coolest sighting at the ballpark?
You know he could breathe through his eyes like the lava lizards of the Galapagos Islands, right?
Yep, that was Fernando. And as I ate a light lunch in the media dining room and sat across from the ex-Dodger great and Cy Young Award winner, I was regaled with tales about the proper technique and arm angle of how to throw the scroogie.
These days Fernando is the Spanish-language announcer for Dodgers’ radio broadcasts, and looks just like he did when he was pitching during the 1980s and ‘90s, albeit with a few extra pounds. The shoulder-length hair brought back by Javier Bardem in “No Country For Old Men, has been neatly shorn.
Anyway, here are a few things I learned about Fernando this afternoon:
• No, he cannot breathe through his eyelids. This was a disappointing fact to learn.
• Fernando was once a teammate with Jamie Moyer in Baltimore in 1993.
• Nope, Fernando had no idea what a guy like me can do for fun in LA. Another disappointing fact to learn.
• Sarge Matthews chatted with Fernando earlier. I learned this when I walked up to Sarge and said, “Did you see that! That was Fernando Valenzuela!” He yelled back, “I know!”
• Fernando brought the heat at 90 mph and threw the screwball in the 70s. He had two pitches – a fastball which he changed speeds with and the screwball. If he threw the screwball to lefties, he’s plunk them, he said. Once, he drilled Roberto Alomar with one simply because he couldn’t control it.
• Fernando has no idea why pitchers don’t throw the scroogie any more.
• Leslie Gudel, the Los Angelino by way of Pasadena, was also a big Fernando fan back in the day. She also liked Ron Cey because she played third base for her school softball teams way back when.
So yeah, how about that? Fernando Valenzuela. Not bad.