How My Dad Escaped The INS To See Fernando Valenzuela

I have always been a baseball fan. I grew up watching on television — when my mom was not watching “Sábado Gigante.” The ritual was always the same: the pre-game show was my father’s excuse to grab a six or twelve pack, hit the taco truck, and while the man behind the counter wrapped up our diabetic meals, we would discuss starting pitching and made imaginary bets neither of us never intended to keep.

I must have won a hundred Nintendos and lost another hundred detailed carwashes to my father. Once we got home, we would turn the television on while lowering the volume and turning on the radio to KWKW 1330, Dodger announcer Vin Scully gave way to Jaime Jarrin.

As much as I enjoyed spending time with my father, I always wanted to go see a game in person, but my undocumented father had put the fear of la migra into me. He was afraid to take the family to a Dodger game, because of the urban myth that the INS staked out Dodger Stadium when Fernando Valenzuela would pitch. Valenzuela was so huge that I thought Julio César Chávez was both a boxer and the leader of the farm workers union, this was particularly heartbreaking because he was the main reason to go to Dodger games. Valenzuela was the reason why Mexican fathers like my own made their kids pitch left-handed, when clearly we were right-handed. As huge as Valenzuela was, my father was not going to risk a run in with immigration.

Then in the summer of 1987 when my father gained his legal residence, so he no longer had an excuse to fear immigration. His new fear became that someone would steal the battery right out of his car.

Finally, the big opportunity came when a local supermarket was giving away free Dodger game tickets with every $25 purchase. That meant that every week, we would have the chance to see the Dodgers face the most unpopular teams of the National League — like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Houston Astros, and the Montreal Expos. As much as my father hated being shaken down by the INS man, or the thought of having his car battery stolen – the thing he loathed the most was losing out on a bargain.

So he finally gave in, and took the family to Dodger Stadium to see the Dodgers take on the Houston Astros. It was the opportunity to see Fernando Valenzuela take on Jim Deshaies. It was a magical game; both pitchers pitched individual gems and when the smoke cleared, Fernando Valenzuela was the victor. He had won 1-0. My mother and sister thought it was the most boring thing they had ever participated in, and vowed they would never return. My father and I appreciated the game – particularly when he turned the key to the ignition, and there was still a battery to power the car ride home.

[Photo By Jim Accordino]

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