Thirty years after he captured the baseball world by storm, Fernando Valenzuela will throw the ceremonial first pitch tomorrow night as the Dodgers open their 2011 season with the Giants. The press release from the team earlier this week simply mentioned the pregame festivities would honor the 1981 World Championship team, but didn't specifically mention whom would be throwing the first pitch. However, Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times broke the news, with a feature on Valenzuela and the impact of Fernandomania:
No Latino athlete before Valenzuela had been embraced in such a way by the American mainstream. Valenzuela didn't even speak English, but he played for one of baseball's great institutions.
"Being Mexican and growing up here, you didn't see too many people in those kinds of positions," said Dodgers catcher Rod Barajas, who was raised in Norwalk. "You didn't see movie stars, actors, anything. He let the community know it didn't matter what race you were, you could reach your goals."
Last year the Dodgers ceremonial first pitch in their home opener was thrown by wil.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas. I'd say this qualifies as an upgrade.
Clayton Kershaw will throw the actual, non-ceremonial first pitch Thursday night, making him the first left-hander to start on opening day for the Dodgers since... Valenzuela, in 1988. Valenzuela started opening day for the Dodgers six times: in 1981, 1983-1986, and 1988.