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Valenzuela inducted into Caribbean Hall of Fame

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HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- When former Dodgers scout Mike Brito came to this region in 1979, he was interested in a shortstop by the name of Ali Uscanga. On Brito's first day here, Uscanga faced a 17-year-old lefty with a flamboyant delivery and a devastating screwball, who threw him three straight balls and then came back with three straight strikes to blow him away.

His name: Fernando Valenzuela.

"I was mesmerized," Brito said. "At that point I stood behind home plate to follow Fernando, and I forgot all about the shortstop."

What followed was a legendary career for Valenzuela, from an unprecedented rookie season to six All-Star teams, Mexican Pacific League lore and standing as the most important baseball player to hail from Mexico.

On Sunday -- before Venezuela beat winless Puerto Rico and undefeated Dominican Republic edged Mexico in walk-off fashion -- Valenzuela was officially enshrined in the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame, even though his entrance had long been foregone.

"For me, to be inducted into the Caribbean Series Hall of Fame, it's a great honor," Valenzuela said. "I feel so happy."

Seventy-five percent of votes is needed for enshrinement in the Caribbean Hall -- just like it is for the Majors -- and Valenzuela received the approval of 175 of the 200 voting media members. At the University of Sonora, in what was the best-attended ceremony in years, Valenzuela was enshrined alongside two former Mexican players, Houston Jimenez and Ever Magallanes, and two former Mexican Pacific League presidents, Renato Vega and Dr. Arturo Leon Lerma.

The Caribbean Hall began in 1996 and every year inducts luminaries tied to the Caribbean Series' host country, including the likes of Tony Perez, Dave Concepcion, Edgar Martinez and Roberto Alomar.

Valenzuela's former translator and current Spanish-language broadcast partner, Hall of Famer Jaime Jarrin, was in attendance, along with countryman and former Dodgers infielder Juan Castro. Former manager Tommy Lasorda, however, has been dealing with a cold and was advised to stay home.

"His professionalism, his chivalry, his people skills and, especially, his dedication to baseball," is what Jarrin said stuck out to him most about Valenzuela. "I'm so happy for him. He's the favorite son of the organization I belong to, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and all of us with the Dodgers are extremely proud of Fernando."

Why did it take so long for Valenzuela to be inducted?

Well, he simply wouldn't stop playing. His Major League career ended with the Cardinals in 1997 -- with 173 wins and a 3.54 ERA -- but he played in the Mexican Pacific League until 2006, at the age of 46.

"I just like it," Valenzuela, now 52, said. "I like to play."

Valenzuela took baseball, the Dodgers and this entire nation by storm in 1981, when he became the first and only pitcher to win the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards while sparking Los Angeles' run to the World Series and launching a phenomenon known, simply, as Fernandomania.

"Every time the Dodgers played in another city and they announced Fernando as the starter, every ticket would sell," Brito said. "Nobody has ever done that."

From 1981 to 1986, Valenzuela won 97 games, posted a 2.97 ERA, and averaged 210 strikeouts and 256 innings per season.

His impact, however, was even greater across the border.

"It was a revolution," Brito said. "When Fernando pitched, Mexico stopped. Everyone wanted to leave work early to watch him pitch on TV."

Valenzuela is a Dodgers legend, but here -- to the Mexican people who know him simply as "El Toro de Etchohuaquila" -- he's a god.

Valenzuela rose from abject poverty -- growing up the youngest of 12 in a small town about 200 miles from Hermosillo -- then struck a unique chord with a Latino-heavy fan base in Los Angeles and took the interest level of baseball in the northern part of Mexico to another level.

Simply put, no one is more revered by Mexican baseball fans than Valenzuela.

"Mexico is a baseball country, especially in the north," said Valenzuela, who appeared in three Caribbean Series and will return as Mexico's pitching coach in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

"We're in Sonora now, which is where I grew up, and I think the baseball is No. 1 here. I tried to do my best all the time. If whatever I did in my career helped somebody or helped baseball, I feel so happy about that. I hope all the youngsters keep going out and playing this game. That's what I tried to teach all the young kids, to play this game."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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