End of line draws near for Valuenzuela

August 20, 1991|By John Lawrence | John Lawrence,McClatchy News Service

TACOMA, WASH. JHC ZHB — TACOMA, Wash. -- It was a hot August night, and the Fernando Valenzuela traveling salvation show made a stop at Cheney Stadium.

When it was over, no one was saved -- not Fernando nor his career. There are no tender mercies in baseball.

Neither were there many revelations about his future after his Edmonton Trappers edged the Tacoma Tigers, 6-5, last night.

Presumably, then, the 30-year-old left-hander will be on his way home to Los Angeles tomorrow after a golf date at Canterwood and a few good-byes today. His illustrious career, at best, is on hold. At worst, it's over.

That's because the California Angels will not sign him to a major league contract; his minor league pact ran out yesterday.

California general manager Dan O'Brien, who watched the effort, called Valenzuela's outing "middle of road. I never expect middle of the road performances."

While O'Brien said he thought Valenzuela needed work, he said it wouldn't be with the Angels.

Fernando tried to take it in stride, but the hurt was clear.

"It's a business," he said. "For me, this is the best sport, and I hope I can continue to do it. Baseball for me -- that's my life. That's the best. It's my career; more than that, I enjoy it.

"Doctors, lawyers, jobs like that are forever. I don't have a chance to do that. Any sport -- there's a limit."

As of today, his calendar is open. He's a free agent.

"Right now I can't say what's going on," he said. "I'll probably spend some time with my family.

"It's hard for me to mention what's going on in the future. But I will try to continue. As long as I can. I love this game."

Valenzuela has not been able to pitch long enough this season to get into a groove. He took six weeks off after his spring-training release by the Dodgers, started over, had five starts in the lower minors and two at California, went on the disabled list for four weeks, and started over again with five starts at Edmonton.

Valenzuela's problems were on display last night. He was staked to 4-0 and 5-1 leads and couldn't hold them because he can't throw his fast ball by anyone.

When he got behind with breaking pitches, he was dead meat: his heater lacked velocity and, more important, location. Worse, the Tigers could just wait back and cremate his breaking pitches that weren't located well.

"It was just that they hit the ball," Valenzuela said. "They had the bat in their hands. I had a bad inning, No. 6. That was it."

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