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Valenzuela opens Mexico Series with first pitch

MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

MONTERREY, Mexico -- Perched high above the stands that overlook the newly refurbished Estadio Monterrey, two familiar figures took their spots in the press box to call the game for Dodgers fans across the globe Friday.

But before Hall of Spanish broadcaster Jaime Jarrin and Mexican pitching legend Fernando Valenzuela could get to work, they happily shook hands and signed autographs for everyone in their path. In San Diego's Spanish radio booth, Eduardo Ortega, who is from Mexico and has been calling Padres games for more than 30 years, couldn't stop smiling as he watched the fans swarm to their seats.

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MONTERREY, Mexico -- Perched high above the stands that overlook the newly refurbished Estadio Monterrey, two familiar figures took their spots in the press box to call the game for Dodgers fans across the globe Friday.

But before Hall of Spanish broadcaster Jaime Jarrin and Mexican pitching legend Fernando Valenzuela could get to work, they happily shook hands and signed autographs for everyone in their path. In San Diego's Spanish radio booth, Eduardo Ortega, who is from Mexico and has been calling Padres games for more than 30 years, couldn't stop smiling as he watched the fans swarm to their seats.

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Major League Baseball returned to Mexico for the first time since 1999 in the first of three-games at Estadio Monterrey, and not even the threat of rain and the gloomy skies above could dampen the anticipation. In fact, the baseball party -- complete with thumping beats, traditional Mexican delicacies and a live band singing English and Spanish songs on the concourse -- was in full swing hours before the game even started.

It was Valenzuela who threw out the ceremonial first pitch before Game 1 of the Mexico Series, because who else but the greatest pitcher in the country's history was going to get the honor?

Valenzuela, who pitched for the Dodgers for 10 years starting in 1980, also pitched for the Padres from '95-97. He won the National League Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year Awards while playing a key role in the Dodgers' World Serie title run in '81. His famous No. 34 jerseys with Valenzuela written across the shoulders could be spotted everywhere in the stands, making it clear Fernandomania was alive 37 years after it started.

"Fernando deserved to throw out the first pitch and many more things because of who he is," said Jarrin, who famously served as Valenzuela's interpreter. "He's so popular in Mexico and he's so popular in this city. People still scream his name in Los Angeles when they show his image, and he's so beloved everywhere he goes. It is the perfect way to start this series."

With all eyes on Valenzuela, his throw marked the only point during pregame when the music was not echoing throughout the park. The celebration resumed after Padres third baseman Christian Villanueva caught the fastball and Valenzuela left field the same way he entered it. He waved to fans and flashed the sheepish Fernando smile that's almost as famous as his windup.

"It's a different atmosphere. It's a fun atmosphere, it's loud, it's energetic," Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "It's great, especially over the course of a 162-game season. Not that the atmosphere in the States is boring by any means, but it's definitely going to be different out here, and it's going to fire a lot of guys up."

Maria Leon -- a singer, dancer, and actress -- performed Mexico's national anthem Friday. Grammy Award-winning artist Leonel García is scheduled to sing the Mexican anthem Saturday and entertainer Kalimba will perform the anthem before Sunday's game. The week's festivities began Wednesday with the MLB FanFest in Macroplaza and continues through Monday with a Play Ball youth event and a game at Estadio Monterrey.

"Being here again is one of the best experiences in my life," Ortega said. "What I really enjoy is connecting with new generations of Mexican baseball fans and young people that love Major League Baseball. There's a continuity that I admire. I really have to give credit to Major League Baseball for continuing to grow the sport in Mexico."

Jesse Sanchez, who has been writing for MLB.com since 2001, is a national reporter based in Phoenix. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers