Like Father, Like Son

Roderick Daniels
El Vaquero Staff Writer

“It was a long time ago when that stuff was going on,” the 19-year-old Valenzuela said about growing up during his father’s 17-year career.

The St. Francis High School graduate, who could have gone to USC but chose not to because he was contacted so late that a scholarship was not available, came to GCC and made an immediate impact on the Vaqueros. Last season, the sweet-swinging Valenzuela batted .404 had 42 RBIs four homeruns and only 14 strikeouts, helping the team to a school record 32 wins.

“I’ve been here two years and gotten a lot better,” Valenzuela said of his time at GCC. “This is a different level, and the pitching is a lot better.

“Last season it was more of ‘let’s see who this guy is all about,’ so I would get fastballs down the middle,” Valenzuela said. “Now, everyone in the league knew who I was, so they were more careful when they pitched to me.”

Because of his newfound recognition, pitchers started pitching around him, not throwing many fastballs, but curveballs, and other off-speed pitches. As a result, his average dropped to .363, but he increased his power, something that he and head coach Jon Strauss talked about.

“His position is a power position,” Strauss said. “If he wanted to move on and play pro ball, he will have to develop more power, and he has shown that.”

Valenzuela, who cut down his strikeout total to 10, has shown he can hit for power in belting out 11 home runs this season and hitting three against College of the Canyons on April 23. Valenzuela used to pitch but stopped in college because it was too tiring to both pitch and play first base. This season he helped lead the Vaqueros to a school record of 34 wins and to host a regional playoff series for the first time in school history.

“He’s probably one of the best hitters in this area,” Strauss said, who was named WSC coach of the year for the second straight season. “I’ve seen him grow this year and develop his game.”
For the past two seasons, the elder Valenzuela, 41, has been spotted at Stengel Field just across the street

from campus. While watching his son play, Valenzuela is frequented by fans just wanting to say hi, posing for pictures and even signing autographs.

“He doesn’t mind it at all,” Valenzuela says of his father. “Just as long as the people are nice to him. My friends and teammates do it too.”

During his 17-year career, Valenzuela played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, California Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals. He started his career in 1980 with the Dodgers, won Rookie of the Year in 1981 with a record of 13-7 that season, throwing eight shutouts. His career high for wins came during the 1986 season when he posted a 21-11 record. His last season came in 1997 when pitching for the Cardinals. Valenzuela, who is in retirement now, finished with a record of 173-153 and won World Series titles in 1981 and 1988, both with the Dodgers.

Born in San Pedro, Valenzuela did not know much about his father’s career or Fernando mania. Though his father played for six teams, Valenzuela has lived in Los Angeles his entire life. When his father played for the Padres, his mother, along with his younger brother Rickey, who plays football at St. Francis High School, and sisters Linda and Maria would cheer on Valenzuela Sr. in San Diego.

But as he grew older, he saw his dad play more and found out what was going on. He said his father would make the most of their time together at home; the two would watch television and talk about baseball. As he was growing up, he did not feel pressured by his parents to play baseball, he said. Whatever profession Valenzuela chose, his parents would support him.

In the fall, Valenzuela will be attending the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he will continue to play baseball and major in communications. He is planning to pursue a career in broadcasting, so he can stay close to the game if his plans for the major leagues don’t work out.

“It will be sad to see him go,” Strauss said. “It’s been fun having him in there at the three spot for two straight years. Every day it was nice having to put him in the lineup, not having to worry about it.”