Renée Saldaña says she was a Los Angeles Dodgers fan before she was even born.
“I come from a Mexican-American family that has been in L.A. and Southern California for four generations. And we are all huge Dodger fans,” Saldaña, who lives in Eagle Rock, said. “There are pics of me as a baby in ’81 wearing a Fernando Valenzuela jersey.”
But when Saldaña heard Monday, Sept. 4, that one of her favorite Dodgers, pitcher Julio Urías, was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of felony domestic violence, she was “disturbed and disappointed.”
She thought the 27-year-old athlete from Culiacán, Mexico, was “going to be our generation’s Fernando Valenzuela,” the star Dodger pitcher from Mexico who in the 1980s galvanized the team’s Latino fan base.
Legions of dedicated Latino Dodgers fans, many of whom affectionately call the team “Los Doyers,” see the squad — and baseball in general — as synonymous with Latino culture in Los Angeles. And, like Saldaña, many were dismayed to hear the news of Urías’ arrest.
Details surrounding the alleged altercation — which reportedly took place Sunday, Sept. 3, outside the BMO Stadium after a soccer game between LAFC and Inter Miami — were not released by Los Angeles police as of Friday, Sept. 8. But, under Major League Baseball’s domestic-abuse policy, Urías was placed on administrative leave Wednesday, Sept. 6. An arraignment is set for Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Urías also faces potential disciplinary action from the MLB, as the first player to twice violate its domestic abuse policy. In 2019, he was suspended for 20 games after an alleged fight with his then-girlfriend in a parking lot, but was not prosecuted. He completed a year-long domestic violence counseling program.
Several events honoring Urías have been canceled — including a bobblehead promotion at the Thursday, Sept. 21, Dodger game. A baseball memorabilia shop in Monterey Park canceled a public signing event with Urías that was set for Sunday, Sept. 24.
With Urías’ career now up in the air, many Latino Dodgers fans are feeling betrayed by their sports hero.
Saldaña called the arrest a “disgusting disappointment.” Her young nieces and nephews were “all hyped on Urías,” had photos taken with a mural of him in East L.A., and owned his bobblehead, she said.
“And now we have to explain to the kids why all of that stuff is going in the garbage, along with his Dodger career,” she said. “Whether or not he likes it, Urías is supposed to be a role model for youth and he messed up twice … he obviously didn’t learn anything from the first time.”
It’s unfortunate that Urías would “disappoint the millions of fans that look up to him,” she said.
Many Latino fans admired him for overcoming poverty and eye surgeries and working hard to make it to the big leagues and thrive. They also liked how the athlete, nicknamed “El Culichi” after his hometown in Culiacán, represented his country.
Fans can’t forget the 2020 pitch Urías threw that sealed the Dodgers’ first World Series championship in 32 years and how he helped take Mexico’s team to the World Baseball Classic semi-finals in spring.
OJ Medina, an Angels fan who lives in Anaheim, said Urías “personally brought a lot of national pride” for Mexicans abroad and in the U.S. — especially after the World Baseball Classic.
“It was like Mexicans had a star that they could follow. A really good pitcher who has the skills, and is one of the top players in the major leagues.”
But Medina said Urías hasn’t “cemented” his legacy to the levels Valenzuela — and the resulting “Fernandomania” — reached. Dodger Nation may have “lost a weapon with Urías … fans may love him, but they love the Dodgers more.”
Natalia Molina, an author and professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, has written numerous essays on how Latino identity intertwines with the Dodgers culture. She said a huge portion of the team’s fan base is Latino, including at least 1 in 2 fans at the stadium during a given game.
Molina, who grew up in Echo Park and walked to Dodger Stadium, said she was disappointed by the allegations because of the lack of Latino role model athletes. Fans have an emotional connection with Urías, who was signed to the team at a young age, overcame eye surgeries, and is “a Mexican immigrant who made it,” she said.
“We judge our athletes by their on- and off-field performance,” Molina said. “There’s no separating the two … we can’t hold athletes to a lower standard. The retiring of Valenzuela’s jersey is barely in the rearview mirror — we’ve had this high, and now we’re at the extreme low.”
Fans value players for more than their on-field statistics, she said.
“You see them as representing the best of your culture, offering an alternative image of the way that Latinos are usually represented. That’s why it hurts so much when any of these players are outed for bad behavior, but this goes far beyond that.”
Temecula resident David Plancarte said Urías is “no longer our ace, our Mexican, our role model, our Dodger.”
He believes the team won’t re-sign Urías after his contract expires this season.
“I don’t believe we will see him pitch for the Dodgers again, and rightfully so …There is no excuse for his reported behavior, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he is out of baseball altogether next year.”
Joseph Price, director of the Institute for Baseball Studies at Whittier College, agreed that the Dodgers fan base has “basically been in healing mode” since the 2021 departure of pitcher Trevor Bauer, who was accused of sexual assault, suspended by MLB and ultimately let go by the Dodgers.
The organization has been working ever since to restore the community’s faith, he said.
“Julio had the potential to become one of the great left-handers in Dodgers history — like Koufax, Kershaw, Valenzuela — but instead his actions have ended that prestige,” Price said. “It causes a lot of tears for the kind of Mexican American identity that has been basically stained with this incident.”
L.A. resident Mateo Lopez, who became a diehard Dodgers fan in 2013 and covered baseball for his school paper, The Poly Post at Cal Poly Pomona, called Urías’ second arrest “disappointing.”
“It sucks to see that someone in a big role like that — especially the way he came up, because he came up as a very young teenager to now,” Lopez, 24, said. “As a fan base, you’re literally watching someone go from greatness and then watching it dwindle away in an instant … and he happens to be a person of color. So when it’s one of your own people, impact-wise, it’s especially hard.”
Seeing a Mexican star in the major leagues like Urías “shows all Latinos young and old that the possibility of becoming successful in this country is attainable to the highest level,” Moreno Valley resident Matt Acero said.
HIs success “brought a huge fan base back to life, and a new era of Latino fans introduced to Dodger baseball, just like Fernando (Valenzuela) did.”
But Urías messed up his second chance, Acero said, adding his thought that toxic Hispanic “machismo” culture likely played a part.
“My first thought was ‘I’m done with him,’ simply because domestic violence is not something to take lightly,” Acero said. “I’ll always be a fan of his moment (in the 2020 World Series), but for him as a person, his actions ruined the ability for me to continue to be a fan.
“Overall it’s just a sad moment for Dodger fans, as well as Latinos who looked at him as not only a prime piece of a championship run — but also as a role model for future Latino players who just wanna make it.”
Urias’ arrest is now a lesson on how to treat people.
“It also teaches our young athletes that your choices and actions have consequences,” he said.
Plenty of Urías merchandise still could be seen on hangers and shelves at the Dodgers Clubhouse store in Rancho Cucamonga on Wednesday, the day Urías’ administrative leave was announced.
While buying baseball caps, Juan Mata and Ethan Oropeza-Leyva, friends from Victorville, acknowledged Urías’ “icon status” in Southern California’s Mexican American community, but said “the right thing to do was to suspend him.”
“We’ve lost someone who was part of the community,” Mata said. “This is going to hurt the team for a while.”
“There are kids who for sure look up to him — especially those who grew up in poverty. Watching him play, it brings you back to the glory days: No. 34. Valenzuela … and now what? There’s other pitchers, but there’s no one that’s Urías.”
Staff writers Georgia Valdes and Sarah Hoffman contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register