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Legendary L.A. Dodgers' pitcher Fernando Valenzuela becomes a U.S. citizen

  • LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06:  Los Angeles Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Dodgers take on the Atlanta Braves in Game Three of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 6, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)

    LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06: Los Angeles Dodgers legend Fernando Valenzuela throws out the ceremonial first pitch before the Dodgers take on the Atlanta Braves in Game Three of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 6, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)  (2013 Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 08:  Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela throws a pitch against the New York Yankees for an Old Timers game before the game betweenthe Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on June 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

    LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 08: Former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela throws a pitch against the New York Yankees for an Old Timers game before the game betweenthe Atlanta Braves and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on June 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Getty)

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, who came to the U.S. from Mexico 36 years ago, became a naturalized citizen this week.

The 54-year-old ballplayer took an oath of allegiance to the United States during a ceremony Wednesday morning in downtown Los Angeles. He pledged alongside 8,000 other people – foregoing a private ceremony.

Valenzuela was born in Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico. His wife, a schoolteacher, became a U.S. citizen a few months ago.

Valenzuela was once one of the game's most popular players, becoming the first pitcher to win both the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same season - 1981. A native of Mexico, the left-hander created "Fernandomania" with his immediate success and affable personality.

"El Toro" led the Los Angeles Dodgers to the 1981 World Series title, galvanized the interest of millions of Latinos and finished his 17-year career 173-153 with a 3.54 ERA.

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He retired in 1997, after a short stint with the St. Louis Cardinals. He returned to the Dodgers in 1988 as a broadcaster for the team.

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

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