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"Fernando Nation" Falls Just Outside the Strike Zone

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Fernando Valenzuela with some friends. (AP Photo/Bruce Rasmussen)
ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series moves right along with “Fernando Nation” directed by Cruz Angeles, born in Mexico City and raised in South Central Los Angeles who is now based in Brooklyn, NY. While it not only is a portrait of Fernando Valenzuela’s quick rise to the top in 1981, it is perhaps the first document of the social conditions of Latin American community during that time.

Angeles first discusses the plight of the Chavez Ravine residents before the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. “You can’t talk about Fernando-Mania without talking about Chavez Ravine,” Angeles said. With interviews with Dolores Huerta, Vice President Emeritus of the United Farm Workers of America, J. Gerardo Lopez of La Opinion and other community leaders, Angeles delves into the hurt the Latin community in Los Angeles felt when thinking about the Dodgers and how the Dodgers was essentially a whites-only fanbase.

With Walter O’Malley knowing the potential money to be made from the Latin American community, he always wanted to find the “Mexican Sandy Koufax.” Unfortunately he would never see one in his lifetime, but thanks to scout Mike Brito they finally got one in Fernando Valenzuela.

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And unfortunately it is at this point where the documentary goes off the tracks.

Yes it’s great to get a taste of Valenzuela’s 8-0 start in 1981 thanks to longtime fan Paul Haddad’s taped radio broadcasts from that year. But it was evident that the 50-minute time restriction really did the documentary injustice.

All of the events prior to 1981 was really well thought out allowing the viewer to easily digest the scenes. But then the film starts to go on a breakneck pace that makes it hard for baseball fans to simply enjoy the feat Valenzuela did. And then perhaps the biggest, most egregious sin of all was made.

For Valenzuela’s only no-hitter on June 29, 1990, instead of using Vin Scully’s great call of the moment (“Throw you sombreros in the air”) the ESPN call of the game was used.

Angeles did bemoan that he had to cut Bobby Castillo teaching Valenzuela the screwball. Of course there was the omission of Valenzuela’s reluctance to step foot into Dodger Stadium until 2003 when he was convinced to join the Dodgers Spanish-language broadcast.

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Despite its faults and shortcomings, “Fernando Nation” is still a compelling watch for everyone.

“Fernando Nation” can be seen Tuesday at 8 p.m. on ESPN.