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Fernando Valenzuela and the Changes Foreigners Brought to Baseball

Fernando Valenzuela (via Instagram)
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By Evan Grant

Mexico’s Fernando Valenzuela helped Major League Baseball become one of the most culturally diverse professional sports leagues in the United States.

Valenzuela played most of his professional career for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Before his time in the U.S.A., he played professional baseball in Mexico for the Mayos de Navojoa.

Pitching style

Fernando Valenzuela
Fernando Valenzuela pitching for the Dodgers. (CC BY 2.0)

Valenzuela had a very unorthodox style of pitching, unfamiliar to U.S. baseball when he began his career for the Dodgers in the 1980s.

Many U.S. fans don’t know about the figure he became to Mexican baseball fans and Latino fans in the United States.

Valenzuela and his MLB career

After earning Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young award honors during his first MLB season, Fernando took the league by storm. He finished his MLB career with a record of 173-153 with a 3.54 earned run average while striking out 2,074 batters.

With his famed 15-year career, Valenzuela solidified himself as a Mexican sports hero in a country that was not his.

In more recent years, Fernando and his family celebrated becoming citizens of the United States.

While Valenzuela played most of his professional career in the United States, being from Mexico always played a part. He became the first Mexican pitcher to throw a no hitter in the MLB, which he will always be remembered for.

When asked in an interview with ESPN if becoming the first Mexican to pitch a no hitter was something he’d always remember, he said:

Yes, I’ll always remember it.

Valenzuela the icon

Because Valenzuela is an iconic foreign athlete in U.S. baseball history, he’s an inspiration not only to aspiring Mexican athletes but young athletes in the United States.

According to Ido Nahashon, an israeli immigrant playing high school sports:

I look up to him and other guys such as Dirk Nowitzki and Yu Darvish as people who aren’t from America, but made it in American sports.

“Some of my favorite players in the MLB are the ones that aren’t from America. They bring a different style to the game that isn’t what you’re used to seeing,” said Sergio Martinez, a Mexican-American and avid baseball watcher.

Different styles of play and different upbringings have become the reason foreign players have made a dent in the U.S. professional leagues and Fernando Valenzuela paved this path.

Fernando Valenzuela (via Instagram)
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6 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this article! It is really cool to see the impact that a singular person can have on such a mainstream event. The world of baseball stretches far and wide, but the impact and community that it creates it inspiring. It was heartwarming to hear how grateful Valenzuela was of Mexico. It was his home, and forever will be. But the grow he experienced in Mexico within the sport lead him to the point of recognition he has in America. Really awesome article!

  2. I am not a big fan of baseball but I really enjoyed this article. I am Mexican and it was really cool to hear that a Mexican player had such big impact in such a big game. It is really rare that I am able to read positive representation of my country and this one was a really good one. I know that there are a lot of Latinx player in the MLB and I guess I just assumed it has always been this way. It was nice to that a Mexican player helped paved the way for the rest.

  3. Coming into this article I had always seen baseball as one of the sports that had a lot of foreign players, but didn’t realize or know how much they actually influenced and changed how the game is played. Hearing the story about Valenzuela was really cool. I was connecting the impact he had for Mexican culture to the boxer Canelo Alvarez. They are very similar in the way that have brought Mexican culture into a positive light in the sports world.

  4. This is a great look at the cultural influences that can be found in the MLB. Some of the greatest players to ever join the league are not just from the United States, but also from Latin America, Japan and South Korea, to name a few. The notion that baseball is solely a U.S. sport is quickly being eroded as talented players make their way to the big league from all across the globe. Shohei Ohtani, for example, is a Japanese player who was third in home runs last season, and he’s only 27. If that’s not success, I don’t know what is.

  5. I really loved this article. I don’t think we get enough coverage on athletes who aren’t from the United States. Seeing Valenzuela, Jokic from the Denver Nuggets, and other players like them really helps make the sport something bigger than itself. Especially when athletes bring in strategies of their own that might not be popular in the U.S., it gives us all a chance to get more creative with our sport.

  6. Being a baseball fan myself, I am well aware of the impact Valenzuela had in the world of this popular sport. Baseball is ever-changing in its techniques and plays… for those of different cultural backgrounds to be apart of the involvement of the sport is amazing! I loved learning about the impact he had on the Mexican sports culture and how he remains an inspiration, a hero, for many athletes and fans. I wasn’t super interested in getting caught up in the details of his stats, as that may be public information easily accessed outside of the article. However, the points made in the highlighted quotes allowed the reading to be focused once again. I greatly enjoyed this reading, thank you!

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