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Fernando Is Back Home After His 'Vacation'

Valenzuela shrugs off stories of his bitterness with Dodgers after his release in 1991, returning to team to join Spanish radio broadcast group.

June 06, 2003|Paul Gutierrez | Times Staff Writer

For more than 12 years, stories of a bitter Fernando Valenzuela have swirled around Chavez Ravine, tales of the left-hander silently stewing in his Los Feliz home, rebuffing the Dodgers' attempts to woo him to the stadium to pay him tribute for his transcendent career and for spawning the cultural phenomenon of Fernandomania.

He was angry, the stories went, about how he was put on waivers only 11 days before the start of the 1991 season, a move that hurt his attempt to immediately catch on with another team.

He was hurt that his release came two days before his $2.55-million contract became guaranteed.

And he was disillusioned about how, after giving his left arm to the organization for more than 10 years, he was no longer deemed worthy by then-manager Tom Lasorda and other higher-ups in the organization.

Why else would he spurn the image-conscious Dodgers every time they asked him to throw out a ceremonial first pitch or come to the stadium to celebrate bobble head dolls with his likeness on them?

"I was on vacation," Valenzuela said with a shrug Thursday afternoon at a news conference to mark his rejoining the organization as a color commentator for the team's Spanish language radio broadcasts. "[Plus] I didn't want to do anything or have any celebration until I completely stopped playing."

Then he blinked. Not with his eyes, but with his words.

Valenzuela, whose playing career ended in the major leagues in 1997 but was extended in the Mexican winter league through 2001, had been asked about his final painful day in a Dodger uniform in Vero Beach on March 28, 1991.

"Nobody mentioned anything to me [about possibly being cut] and that's when they told me," Valenzuela said. "In Tommy's office and [then-general manager] Fred Claire told me. I said, 'OK, thanks.' I saw [catcher] Mike Scioscia and told him I was on waivers and he said, 'You're joking.' Because that's how I was, always joking around.

"But that's in the past. I only want to look back when [I'm pitching and] somebody's hitting the ball past me. There's new owners here and a new organization."

And a new radio personality.

Valenzuela was accompanied by a mariachi band on his first trip to Dodger Stadium as a Dodger since the end of the 1990 season.

"This is like spring training for me, so I need to just keep talking," said Valenzuela, who signed a three-year deal to join Hall of Famer Jaime Jarrin and Pepe Yniguez in the booth.

Jarrin, meanwhile, was busy quoting scripture and comparing Valenzuela's journey home to the parable of the prodigal son.

"He is, as we say in Spanish, el hijo de prodigal," Jarrin said. "He is well-respected and liked. Not only by the Latinos, but the Anglos also."

Valenzuela, who will finally throw out a first pitch before tonight's game, admitted that he is nervous but said that he's most excited to see the fans' reaction to his return.

"I'm a rookie again," he said. "I want to know their opinion."

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