My Summer Vacation with Fernando

Oh yeah, that's my pal Fernando and I just
corresponding through the mail like friends do,
exchanging 1990 Donruss cards.
June 29, 1990
Cardinals at Dodgers
Fernando Valenzuela Pitches a No Hitter

It was one month into my summer vacation before the 6th grade, which meant I was staying up as late as I wanted. Midnight? Pfft. That was week one. By late June, I was falling asleep around dawn, usually with fingers locked around a video game controller.

There weren't many Dodgers TV appearances in the 1980's or 90's for a fan living in North Carolina. I was guaranteed to see them when they played the Braves on TBS, the Cubs on WGN, the Mets on WOR for a while, and anytime I lucked out on ESPN, CBS, NBC or Fox games of the week.

I carefully scanned the TV grids days in advance and my blue world was rocked when I saw ESPN would carry a Dodgers home game Friday night, which meant the first pitch was at 10:35 ET.

The drooling began Thursday when the probable pitchers in the Charlotte Observer showed Fernando Valenzuela would take the mound against the Cardinals. Fernando was my favorite player, and I was
the proud owner of two signed baseball cards and a signed 8x10.

I don't care if it was Mike Scioscia's mother who signed those cards and that photo, Fernando and I were officially corresponding, dammit! I received mail addressed to me from 1000 Elysian Park Ave. three different times! OK, fine, I got greedy and sent him a letter asking for an autograph three times.

Yeah, that's just my pal Fernando personally addressing me
in a glossy 8x10 delivered via U.S. Mail in my name.
Yeah, I'm a big deal.
So the game began on a Friday night in a darkened house, with my parents and my older brother asleep upstairs. The summertime no-bedtime rule came with some key caveats: don't you dare wake anybody up or do anything annoying or stupid.

I always thought it was too damn hot in any house growing up. Unfortunately, the thermostat was always near or even in my parents' bedroom. Let's be clear, getting caught adjusting it wouldn't have been a big deal, but it's close to violating the "annoying shit he's doing in the middle of the night" clause of the no-bedtime rule.

In this particular house, this thermostat ninja had to carefully creep by an open bedroom door in a hallway with a creaky floor. Knowing which spots creaked the most was critical. I'd wait until the A/C was already running so my adjustment wouldn't trigger it on, then slide by and nudge the knob down in one fluid motion.

It was finally getting under 68 degrees, the family room door was closed, the TV was on but the stereo speakers were off. I had chips, candy and soda all gathered and standing by. No midnight trips to the kitchen necessary, no beeping microwave at 1am. I was courteous, cooled and prepared.

I was young, but I wasn't a na├»ve baseball fan. I knew not to get immediately excited about the no hitter in progress. The excitement began in the 2nd inning. After that, each Cardinals batter made me even more nervous.

Fernando kept getting outs and the Dodgers had so much of a lead that by the 6th inning, I wanted the Dodgers hitters to hurry up and make outs so Fernando could get this over with. By the time the 9th inning rolled around, I was out of soda, sour cream and onion chips, Skittles and all I had to chew on were my fingernails watching the southpaw from Sonora.

Vince Coleman was the leadoff hitter and my heart almost stopped when he ripped a foul down the third base line. Inches to the right and it would've been an easy double. On ESPN, Gary Thorne's emphasis on "Coleman" seemed simultaneous with the swing and it scared the hell out of me. Thorne didn't miss a beat when he added "fouls it off," but my heart missed two.

Coleman grounded out to short, but of course made it a close play with his speed. Fernando walked the next guy and suddenly our old pal Pedro Guerrero was up. It was sad to think that a former Dodger, and a man who once missed time because he tried to save a TV during an earthquake, could ruin Fernando's night. I was standing by to seek and destroy all Guerrero baseball cards I owned should events warrant.

But Pedro did what Pedro did best at that point in his career. He grounded into a double play. The ball actually deflected off Fernando's glove. He stood on the mound, arms to the side, eyes and head following the ball from glove to hand to glove to hand to glove one last time. Eddie Murray's foot was on the bag, Pedro's wasn't and the greatest Dodger game I could have ever dreamed of was over.

It was one o'clock in the morning, Fernando had just pitched a no hitter and I was jumping up and down, throwing myself onto the couches, but making the least amount of noise possible. A no hitter was no excuse to blow a cushy summer arrangement.

Even though I drank all the soda, ate all the chips, didn't put the couch pillows or cushions back properly and probably added $50 per month to the power bill with ninja-like precision, I still showed some responsibility. I recorded the final half-inning on the VCR and left the tape in the kitchen with a note before I went to bed at 5am. It might be summer, but I'm still courteous.


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