Fernandomania: 30 years later

Fernando Valenzuela in 1991 with the Midland Angels.

Was it really 30 years ago?

It seems almost impossible to get the head wrapped around the fact that on June 1, 1991 Fernando Valenzuela pitched against the Arkansas Travelers at Ray Winder Field and I was among the 12,246 people jammed into the stands, and on the field.

Paid subscriptions make this reporting possible

Subscribe if you like, pay if you can

Me, my brother Josh and our mutual friend J.J. made the two-hour trip from Ozark to the game and we got there early. Really early. Hours ahead of the start time and were able to snag seats along the third-base line and in the metal bleachers that were hot to the touch as they baked in the sun.

Travs coverage

Others weren’t so lucky to get seats, as the outfield’s warning track was roped off and turned into standing-room only seating to accommodate the crush of people, that was a record then and still the largest crowd to watch the Travs play.

The draw was Valenzuela, who, 10 years earlier, became the first pitcher to win the Cy Young Award and be Rookie of the Year for the Los Angeles Dodgers and after a decade there, signed with the Angels and was sent to the minors to work on a bum shoulder.

It is hard to say how many games I have attended in my life either as a fan, or brother or uncle or as a paid observer dispatched by a media outlet. If I had to hazard a guess, it would be in the thousands. There’s been times, when I might have made a 1,000 games in a year, such is the life of a professional sportswriter.

Even in this pandemic of a year where attendance at sporting events has been limited, I’ve still managed to make a few and all those venues from coast-to-coast and at all levels from the highest of professional sports to youth league baseball. That game, that Fernando game still stands out.

I’ve never been to a game quite like it. The buzz, the energy of the crowd, just the atmosphere. There’s something about sports that when everything comes together and it becomes almost magical. That’s true of any live performance whether it is a concert or a play or whatever. It just takes you in and doesn’t let you go.

Such is the lure and I miss it desperately. So mask up and get vaccinated, so going to the game becomes normal again.


The Los Angeles Times is doing a rather terrific video series on Fernandomania and 40 years later. It can be viewed on that paper’s website here or at the paper’s YouTube channel here. There’s two videos so far and they’re must watch and extremely compelling.