Fernando Valenzuela, late of ‘Fernandomania,’ reflects on the Jeremy Lin phenomena

Jeremy Lin was born in Los Angeles. He went to Palo Alto High School, the same institution that educated James Franco, Jim Harbaugh and Ugly Kid Joe singer Whitfield Crane. He's an all-American dude that used to have a Xanga account full of goofy pictures. On the surface, he has nothing to do with a chubby kid who didn't speak a lick of English after going from Etchohuaquila, Mexico, to the Yucatan Lions to the Los Angeles Dodgers some 31 years ago. Fernando Valenzuela and Jeremy Lin, on the surface, seem to have nothing in common save for the hysteria they created while working for two of sports' most storied teams in the two biggest cities in America.

Which is why Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News got in touch with Fernando recently to pick the brain of the one person who might have the slightest clue what Lin is going through.

"I'm not really a big fan of basketball, but I think what he's doing is great," Fernando Valenzuela said Thursday, by phone from Los Angeles.

Valenzuela's advice for Lin? Block out everything but the task at hand.

"I just think he has to focus on the game," the six-time All-Star said. "That's the only thing he can do: keep working and keep doing his job.

"Maybe you find time here and there to talk to the media. But he has to focus on what he does best."

As the interview with the notoriously publicity-shy Valenzuela points out, Fernando may have actually had a less-frenzied ascension to stardom. He was a late September call-up in 1980 and pitched well in that year's playoffs. By the time spring training started up half a year later, Valenzuela was already primed as a Rookie of the Year candidate. He delivered, but the hype was about seven months in the making at that point.

By the time of Thursday's interview with Fernando, Lin had only been in New York's rotation for 12 days. And in that time, he's turned his team around, been the lead story on newscasts as well as sports clip shows, dominated talk radio, and made the cover of Sports Illustrated. It's been less than two weeks, and the guy's a star.

The speed at which Fernandomania hit may not compare with (sigh, I guess we have to write it) "Linsanity," but he had to overcome much, much more to win the nation's heart. He didn't speak much English, and he didn't have the benefit of a full year dealing with a major-league lifestyle (as Lin had with the Golden State Warriors last season, despite only playing 284 minutes) to fall back on in 1981. Somehow, completely unsuited to handle the pressures and responsibilities and pitfalls that were on the ready at the height of Los Angeles' era of excess, Valenzuela kept it together.

Remarkable stories, regardless of how disparate the characters are. And if Lin enjoys a 17-year career in the pros, as Valenzuela did, then we'll all be better off.

(We should probably stop writing so many stories about Jeremy Lin, though.)

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