The Sixth Beatle

Just watched a fantastic Fernando Valenzuela documentary on ESPN (available  OnDemand for Comcast subscribers). It’s the first of the “30 in 30″ series focusing on baseball that I found compelling. (ANOTHER tribute to the 2004 Red Sox along with some Steinbrenner ass-kissing by overrated documentarian Barbara Kopple!?!)

Director Cruz Angeles tells Valenzuela’s story from the perspective of a Latino kid growing up in L.A. Mexicans mostly resented the Dodgers until Fernando, largely due to the ugly roots of Dodger Stadium. Chavez Ravine was a community founded by Latino immigrants who were forced out by old school eminent domain. That is, the cops showed up with billy clubs then bulldozed their homes.

But Valenzuela changed that perception. Name a famous Mexican before Fernando? I’m talking Brad Pitt-famous, because Fernandomania was not overhyped. His debut in Atlanta, on a Thursday night in May, attracted 26,597 fans, more than the first two games of the Dodgers series combined. That was a huge crowd in those days. (Shockingly, the Braves gave Fernando his first major league ass-kicking, scoring seven runs in 3-2/3 innings. Biff Pocoroba hit second that night and played 3B, BTW.)

It doesn’t get more aberrating than that. El Toro threw 8 shutouts in a 110-game, strike-shortened season. By comparison, Mad Dog never topped five in a season.

Fernando’s greatest legacy? A loyal Latino following for the Dodgers. Visitors to Chavez Ravine  can attest: Fernandomania lingers.

Sugar’s a gem

Office readers had good things to say about “Sugar,” and you were right. What a great flick, free of the romanticism that tends to bog down most baseball movies. Great performance by Angelis Perez Soto in the title role. He’ll have you thinking twice the next time you boo the likes of Manny Acosta or Luis Valdez.

I’ve written before about my week spent at the Braves’ Dominican academy in San Francisco de Marcoris, which serves as a weigh station for budding prospects. Most of them wouldn’t make it off the island, and the pressure was evident, with one notable exception. Here’s what I wrote about Neftali Feliz, 17 at the time:

His body is built for mound success, lean but muscular with oversized hands. You’ll never meet a more affable kid; he’s always smiling, that is, until he takes the field.

That confidence doesn’t come easy, especially when the stakes are so high. For most, it’s a choice between baseball player and rice farmer. “Sugar” tells their story, and does so beautifully.