September 3, 2014

Old Friend Alert: Trayvon Robinson

With the Dodgers arriving in Seattle for a weekend series, The Seattle Times conducted an online chat for fans with former Dodger minor leaguer, and current AAA center fielder for the Tacoma Rainiers, Trayvon Robinson.

There are a few questions about the Dodgers that will be of interest for readers of this blog (for one, Trayvon considers the Dodgers more strict as an organization than the Mariners).  He also spoke about his interactions with the Dodgers’ Hall of Famers:

When you were with the Dodgers did you get to meet any of their Hall of Fame players and what was that like?

Everybody knows Tommy Lasorda. Tommy, if you were a first round pick or 50th round pick or free-agent signing, he loves you like you were his kid. For him to know my name still when I walk by him, that’s incredible. I knew Don Newcombe, Sweet Lou Johnson, Maury Wills – I got to give him a call later. I haven’t checked in with him lately. Tommy Davis. The one who kind of made me what his attitude is like was Duke Snider before he passed away. When I met Duke Snider, I introduced myself to him and he told me he was from Compton, I said, “What? You’re from Compton.” I shook his hand and he had big hands, and I asked what kind of bat he swung. He said a 35-35, and he went off on the little bats other people were swinging.  I thought, man, I really like this guy.

Checking in on the Departed 2011 Dodgers: From Barajas, Blake and Brox to Carroll, Kuo and Kuroda

On the eve of Spring Training for the Dodgers. I thought it would be fun to check in on some of the 2011 Dodger players that departed Chavez Ravine for (hopefully) greener pastures in 2012.  As you will see, some of our old friends are embarking on new chapters, some are being reunited with old friends, while others are struggling to secure roster spots and keep their major league careers going:

Tom Singer from MLB.com takes a look at the new Pirates’ battery of A.J. Burnett and Rod Barajas, and why Barajas is thrilled to be reunited with his 2008 Toronto teammate.

Patrick Saunders and Troy Renck from the Denver Post touch on Casey Blake’s challenge in holding down third base for the Rockies.

The Associated Press looks at Jonathan Broxton’s new beginning in Kansas City as the set-up man to closer Joakim Soria, and why the Royals were the former closer’s first choice.

Jamey Carroll talks with Tyler Mason from FS North about being the Twins new starting shortstop at 38 years old.

Matthew Leach from MLB.com examines Rafael Furcal’s battle to show his power and ability to consistantly get on base for the Cardinals at 35 years old.

Paul Hoynes from The Plain Dealer states that Jon Garland’s physical with the Cleveland Indians didn’t happen today as planned, which is significant as the pitcher’s minor league contract is contingent on him passing the examination.

Larry Larue at the News Tribune examines the complexities of new Mariner reliever Hong-Chih Kuo.

Bryan Hoch talks with Russell Martin and Hiroki Kuroda about Kuroda’s transition to the Yankees, and how it compares to Kuroda’s arrival in Los Angeles from Japan.

Alex Speier from WEEI Sports Radio reports on Vicente Padilla’s legal challenges as he attempts to get to Spring Training on time to compete for a roster spo with the Red Sox.

 

Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo/ Los Angeles Dodgers 2011 

Shawn Green’s Irvine Home on Market (with Vineyard)

Ok, so this isn’t really about the Dodgers, but it’s a rare look inside the life of a former major league player.  Former Dodger Shawn Green has put his Irvine, CA home back on the market for $10.9 million, complete with vineyard.

Per Marilyn Kalfus of The Orange County Register:

The 5-bedroom, 7.75-bath Shady Canyon home of Ex-Dodgers player Shawn Green has a motorcourt entrance with reclaimed French pavers. The house, built in 2008, once was the highest price residence in Irvine. The listing for the property touts a vineyard that can produce two barrels of wine at harvest.

Be sure and check out the photos of the estate (phot credit: The Orange County Register and SoCal MLS). Maybe the dodgerfan.net faithful can band together and this can be our new editorial headquarters!

The Return of Fernandomania

Fernandomania is the subject of the next “30 for 30″ documentary (put on by ESPN Films) and I couldn’t be more excited.

Called “Fernando Nation,” the series looks at the one and only Fernando Valenzuela.  Like many fans of the team, some of my favorite early Dodger memories revolve around Fernandomania and the excitement that the young Mexican phenom generated in my group of friends, deep in the heart of suburbia – to say nothing of Angelenos everywhere.  Fernando’s accomplishments literally transcended race; the overweight, shy, Spanish-speaking kid was someone everyone could root for.  And they did. 

Even today, when I think about what Dodger legend’s name I would put on the back of my jersey (if I had one), Valenzuela is a clear #2 (Scully is my #1).  There simply has not been a young player for the Dodgers that inspired and electrified the crowd from his first day in Dodger Blue quite like Fernando Valenzuela.

For those of you that were born after Fernandomania, here’s a quick summary of the legendary pitcher’s accomplishments (courtesy of the Dodgers PR team):

In his 10 appearances with the Dodgers in 1980, Valenzuela didn’t allow an earned run in 17 2/3 innings. He posted a 2-0 record with one save and the Dodgers finished the regular season tied for first place in the National League West.

Valenzuela was the emergency starter on Opening Day 1981 when he hurled a 2-0 shutout over Houston, one of five in his first eight starts that season. The phenomenon of “Fernandomania” ensued shortly thereafter. While leading the Dodgers to the World Championship that year, he became the first player in Major League history to be named Rookie of the Year and to win a Cy Young in the same season. Valenzuela also earned the All-Star Game start in Cleveland. He still holds the rookie record for consecutive scoreless innings (35.0), as he began his major league career with a 10-0 record and a 0.40 ERA (4ER/90.0 IP) including his late season call-up in 1980.

In 17 big league seasons, Valenzuela compiled a 173-153 record and a 3.54 ERA with Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Baltimore, Philadelphia, San Diego, and St. Louis. He was named to the National League All-Star team for six consecutive seasons from 1981-1986 and in 1986 he won 20 games while also earning the Rawlings Gold Glove Award.

Here’s the official summary of the film:

“‘The Natural’ is supposed to be a blue-eyed boy who teethed on a 36-ounce Louisville Slugger. He should run like the wind and throw boysenberries through brick. He should come from California.” – Steve Wulf, Sports Illustrated, 1981.  So how was it that a pudgy 20-year-old, Mexican, left-handed pitcher from a remote village in the Sonoran desert, unable to speak a word of English, could sell out stadiums across America and become a rock star overnight?  In Fernando Nation, Mexican-born and Los Angeles-raised director Cruz Angeles traces the history of a community that was torn apart when Dodger Stadium was built in Chavez Ravine and then revitalized by one of the most captivating pitching phenoms baseball has ever seen.  Nicknamed “El Toro” by his fans, Fernando Valenzuela ignited a fire that spread from LA to New York—and beyond. He vaulted himself onto the prime time stage and proved with his signature look to the heavens and killer screwball that the American dream was not reserved for those born on U.S. soil.  In this layered look at the myth and the man, Cruz Angeles recalls the euphoria around Fernando’s arrival and probes a phenomenon that transcended baseball for many Mexican-Americans. Fernando Valenzuela himself opens up to share his perspective on this very special time. Three decades later, “Fernandomania” lives.

Now how does that not get you excited if you’re a baseball fan?  The Dodgers had the official premiere for the film at Dodger Stadium on Thursday evening, and the reviews are starting to come in: 

- Dodger Thoughts’ Jon Weisman offers a glimpse into his boyhood love for Fernandomania (more on the film is coming soon from Jon)

- Evan Drellich of MLB.com gives some context to Valenzuela’s accomplishments

- Roberto over at Vin Scully is My Homeboy gives the doc two thumbs up and has some photos from the premiere

When covering games at Dodger Stadium, I frequently see Fernando, now the Spanish radio analyst for the team, walking through the press box and on the field, greeting kids and community groups before games.  He’s no longer the shy ballplayer he was when he first arrived, but he continues to carry himself with the grace and class and grace that’s fitting of a Dodger legend.

I can’t wait to watch “Fernando Nation” on Tuesday night, if only to flash back to the magic he created in Chavez Ravine in 1980 and beyond.

“Fernando Nation” will air on ESPN Deportes on Sunday, October 24 at 6 p.m. PST and on ESPN on Tuesday, October 26 at 5 p.m. PST.

Photo Credit: Rick Stewart/Getty Images

Rest in Peace, Willie Davis

Former Dodgers center-fielder Willie Davis was found dead in his Glendale, CA home today.  He was 69.  According to reports from the LAPD in today’s Los Angeles Times, Davis appeared to have died of natural causes.

The Dodgers issued the following statement from Frank McCourt this afternoon:

“Willie Davis went from a local talent at Roosevelt High School to a World Champion center fielder for the Dodgers in just a few years and many of his records still stand today. He was beloved by generations of Dodger fans and remains one of the most talented players ever to wear the Dodger uniform. Having spent time with him over the past six years, I know how proud he was to have been a Dodger. He will surely be missed and our sincere thoughts are with his children during this difficult time.”

I think Steve Dilbeck’s blog post remembering the good, the bad and the expectations (placed on by fans and of himself) Willie Davis is really something, and worth a read by everyone who visits this blog.  A brief quote is below:

He was a remarkable athlete who did some remarkable things for the Dodgers. Yet somehow with Willie, it seemed less about what he accomplished and more about what he did not.……..

He couldn’t hit as well as Tommy Davis, steal like Maury Wills. Didn’t have the commanding presence of Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale. He seemed more a role player on the great Dodgers teams of the ’60s, though his flashes of greatness only seemed to leave others yearning for more.

Willie was called up when he was only 20 and played 13 years with the Dodgers, 17 major-league seasons overall. And when he passed away Tuesday, he was still the Los Angeles Dodgers all-time leader in hits, extra-base hits, total bases, plate appearances and triples.

He had a deep voice, distinctive laugh. For a man others claimed was always in search of himself as a player, he gave off the appearance of easy-going happiness.

He won three Gold Gloves, stole 20 or more bases 13 times, still holds the L.A. Dodgers record for his 13-game hitting streak and was twice an All-Star.

And yet unfairly, he is almost remembered as much for the three errors he committed on consecutive plays in Game 2 of the 1966 World Series. For being Willie Davis, and not Willie Mays. For imagined sins of omission.

………….

If guilty only of not being a superstar, he was still a unique star and special player. He died at age 69, and the only thing he didn’t give us enough of, was years.

Rest in peace, Willie Davis.

Photo Credit: WalterOMalley.com