Valenzuela just keeps pitching ball
National League Cy Young Award winner Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who never let schooling interfere with his education, is having a 13 -room house built for his parents in Mexico at a reported cost of $210,000. Sixteen relatives, including several brothers and sisters, are also expected to take up residence there on a permanent basis.
But Valenzuela has not been pitching winter ball in Mexico to make extra money. Finances and the added responsibility of marriage are not problems. Conditioning is, and without regular work his body has a tendency to take on the silhouette of an old-fashioned butter churn.
For those who think that the Dodgers might be allowing Fernando to overwork himself, one has only to listen to LA Manager Tommy Lasorda.
''It is my understanding that Fernando has been pitching the year-round since he was about 14,'' Lasorda explained. ''Obviously this has become part of his routine, part of his conditioning program, and he has learned how to handle this. I can assure you that the Dodgers have no objection to what he is doing.
''Playing winter ball regularly is not that unusual for a great many major leaguers. Juan Marichal, when he was with the San Francisco Giants, did it for years, and how many pitchers can you name who have had better careers than Marichal? We get reports from our scouts all the time on Fernando and he must be doing something right because earlier in the winter he pitched a seven-inning no-hitter.''
Even though Valenzuela was given a portable cassette player and a series of English-Spanish instruction tapes months ago by Mike Brito, the Dodger scout who discovered him, Brito doesn't know whether Fernando uses them or not.
But Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis has reportedly encouraged Valenzuela to do two things: (1) learn English; and (2) get a driver's license, so that he won't have to depend on Brito to get him to the ballpark. There is also a good chance by now that Fernando's wife, Linda, a schoolteacher in Mexico, has herself a new English student.
Whenever I have wanted to question Valenzuela, outside of a club-related press conference at which an interpreter is always present, I ask a Spanish-speaking Los Angeles newspaper friend of mine, Angel Trada, to speak for me.
I think it's significant that the last couple of times I did this, Fernando answered some of my questions before Angel had a chance to repeat them to him.
From that I have to believe that Valenzuela understands more English than he cares to admit, but hides this to cut down on meaningless interviews. There have also been reports that when Brito's two young daughters speak to Fernando in Spanish, he often answers in English.
During baseball's 1981 split season, the result of a players' strike, Valenzuela won 13 games, boasted a 2.48 earned-run average, and led the NL in shutouts (8) and strikeouts (180).
Fernando then added to his total in postseason play with a win over Houston in the division playoffs and a win against Montreal that clinched the pennant. He also got the Dodgers rolling in the World Series with a win in Game 3 over New York. Before that, the Yankees were up two wins to none in the Series.
Asked what his impressions were the first time he watched Valenzuela pitch in Mexico, Brito replied:
''Even though he was very young, he obviously knew how to pitch. He kept the ball down and he threw strikes and nothing seemed to bother him. The only thing I didn't like was his failure to follow through on a lot of his pitches. But that is basically mechanical, it was nothing to worry about and could be corrected.''
Fernando, after getting $42,500 from Los Angeles last season, plus a World Series check for $48,000 and an estimated $300,000 in commercial endorsements, is now trying to get together with the Dodgers on a new contract.
Valenzuela's agent is soft-spoken, well-dressed Tony DeMarco, who also represents several foreign film stars and who apparently does not feel that $1 million a year is unreasonable for his client.
The Dodgers seem to like the figure $300,000, but know they will probably have to come up to $500,000 to reach an agreement. There may also be problems if DeMarco insists on a one-year contract for Valenzuela, rather than the four- or five-year pact LA has in mind.