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At a little dinner party given at the White House last Thursday night for the President of Italy, a few of Tommy Lasorda's very closest friends inquired about the health of one of his pitchers. Frank Sinatra asked, George Bush asked. Even President Reagan asked about Fernando.
Fernando Valenzuela is fine, thank you. At 10:14:12 a.m. on March 24, Valenzuela made his first official 1982 appearance in his Dodger blues. He emerged from the clubhouse into the bright Vero Beach, Fla. sunshine and began breaststroking his way through a crowd of newsmen, cameramen and Fernandomaniacs. To the rescue came Traveling Secretary Billy DeLury, driving golf cart No. 25. Valenzuela climbed into the shotgun seat and Manager Lasorda onto the back, and off they went down Vin Scully Way. At Duke Snider Road, the cart turned right.
Valenzuela had arrived in Dodgertown the previous night, ending his month-long holdout. After conferring with his agent, Tony DeMarco, and his lawyer, Dick Moss, Valenzuela decided to join his teammates without agreeing to the Dodgers' latest offer, of $350,000 for the season plus $100,000 in incentives. Last year at this time, Valenzuela was a rookie with a $42,500 salary. But that was 13 victories, 11 sellouts at Dodger Stadium and one Cy Young Award ago. Now the President wants to know how Fernando is.
Valenzuela disembarked from the golf cart and joined his teammates in calisthenics in rightfield of Holman Stadium. Never have stretching exercises been so intensely watched by so many. At 10:30 he wiped his brow for the first time. Exercises over, the Dodgers began running, first forward and then backward, symbolically re-creating Valenzuela's negotiation process. They then jogged around the field, Fernando finishing 28th in the field of 33.
He went out to leftfield to play catch with Pitcher Steve Howe. They also kicked the ball around for a bit. At 10:55 Valenzuela began warming up in the bullpen with Catcher Bill Sobbe. At 10:59 Sobbe's glove popped for the first time. One pitch later, Tony Segreto of WTVJ in Miami became the first person to ask Pitching Coach Ron Perranoski, "How's he throwing?" At 11:03 Valenzuela delivered his first curve.
Later Sobbe talked about the historic warmup. "It was pure luck that I was the one to catch him," he said. "Gilberto Reyes [another young catcher] wanted to catch BP first, so I went to the bullpen. Fernando threw about 45 pitches, a lot of fastballs, a few curves, a few screwballs.
"You know, I caught him a couple of years ago in the Arizona Instructional League. He was pretty good then, but I didn't figure the whole world would be waiting on his words. But I guess that's the way the world is today."
At 11:07 Valenzuela began throwing batting practice to Pedro Guerrero, Ron Cey, Steve Garvey and Steve Yeager. He worked for 12 minutes, and the results were mixed: Guerrero took his roommate deep, but Cey and Yeager had their bats broken. "He threw just fastballs," said Garvey. "He threw hard, maybe harder than he should have, probably because of the excitement."
Batting practice done with, Valenzuela walked out of the stadium to the strains of James Taylor's Mexico over the loudspeaker. He strolled back to the clubhouse to have his arm iced down. We'll spare you the hoary details.
At 11:45 he reemerged to begin running in the outfield of Field No. 1. In between sprints he signed the usual assortment of balls and programs, plus two oil paintings of his truly and the lid of a garbage can. At 12:25 he went back inside to shower and dress. His first workout over, Valenzuela walked down Roy Campanella Drive toward his room.