Valenzeula The Star Of Monterrey Series
MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) _ Just mention Fernando Valenzuela’s name in this city, and watch faces light up.
Fans simply can’t wait to see their 35-year-old national hero pitch Friday night for the Padres, who were kicked out of San Diego when the Republicans considered using Jack Murphy Stadium for the final night of their national convention.
That didn’t come about, but it helped spawn major league baseball’s first regular-season games played outside the United States and Canada, a three-game series between the Padres and the New York Mets.
The Padres’ rotation was juggled so that Valenzeula (9-7, 3.87 ERA) will pitch the opener Friday night. He’ll also throw out the ceremonial first pitch, accompanied by the governor of Nuevo Leon and the mayor of Monterrey, a city of about 3 million ringed by the spectacular eastern Sierra Madre.
``All the people are speaking about Fernando Valenzuela,″ said Melchor Garcia, 62, who has been a ticket seller for 27 years for the Monterrey Sultanes of the Mexican League. ``The people think that he’s going to carry a good time.″
Few locals know the reason the series was moved here, and few care.
Javier Corchado Alvarez, 44, bought three general admission tickets to Friday’s game, at 30 pesos each, or a little more than $4. The minimum wage here is about 27 pesos a day, so it’s a big sacrifice.
``How wouldn’t you want to see him?″ Corchado asked Thursday. ``That’s why we came, to see him.″
Elva Gonzalez, 45, is equally enthused.
``Ninety percent of the people, this is what they are talking about,″ she said.
Corchado said Valenzuela’s appearance is ``absolutely″ the biggest moment in baseball in Monterrey, which is home to the Mexican baseball Hall of Fame and which just days ago celebrated a second straight Mexican League title.
Even though the GOP decided not to use Jack Murphy Stadium, the NFL’s Chargers play an exhibition game there Saturday night. That would have forced the Padres to schedule a doubleheader either Friday or Sunday, which they didn’t want to do.
So the Padres had the impetus to continue their Mexican marketing campaign, albiet 1,000 miles from home. Monterrey, celebrating its 400th anniversary, has what some consider the best ballpark in Latin America, seating 26,000 and modeled after Jack Murphy Stadium.
``It all seemed too poetic,″ said club president Larry Lucchino. ``We’re expecting to establish a certain kind of affinity with Mexico, and a connection to Mexican baseball fans that will pervade the country, particularly in Baja.″
As big a spectacle as this is, the Padres want to keep in perspective that they’re in a pennant race.
``I hope people understand that we are going there to play baseball, not just to have fun,″ Valenzuela said from Cincinnati, where the first-place Padres were swept by the Reds.
But, he added: ``I think it’s going to be exciting for me, to be part of the first team to play in Mexico in the regular season.″
Valenzuela was with the Los Angeles Dodgers when they played an exhibition game here in 1991 _ the same spring training he was cut by the Dodgers _ and he played in the Mexican League in 1992 and 1994 as he tried to rekindle his big-league career. Some family members plan to make the trip from Sonora, on the other side of the country.
``I’m pretty sure there will be somebody there that I know,″ Valenzuela said.
At the very least, 26,000 fans who know him.