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February 17, 2012

Former big league catcher Dave Valle has grown up nicely


By VIVIAN BARNING


In the late 1970s Frank and I were involved with a team in the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League. It was a summer league for college players with the potential to turn professional. Among the alumni are Craig Biggio, Rick Cerone and Joe Maddon. We saw many terrific players both in the ACBL and on the All Star teams from the Cape Cod League and other leagues that the ACLB played against.


By the third year of our four year involvement, I had taken over as the General Manager from Frank. Our team held a preseason scrimmage against the Flushing Tigers on a field in Queens, NY. The Tigers were top level high school players looking to either get college scholarships or be drafted by a major league team.


At the end of the game against the Tigers I approached our manager, Ed Mathes, and stated that theirs was an impressive team. I told him that I particularly liked the catcher, Dave Valle, and thought that we should try to interest him in our team once he entered college.


Eddie laughed and said, “He’s not going to college. He’s going straight to minor league ball. We’ll never get a chance to sign him.” Mathes added that "Valle is only 16 years old and some of our players have three years of college baseball experience, but he was the best player on the field today."


As usual Ed was right and Valle went on to a significant major league career, primarily with the Seattle Mariners. Valle, impressive as a high school player, is even more impressive as a retired big leaguer. He can be seen on MLB Network as an expert commentator.


The following is taken from a recent column in Yahoo! Sports written by Tim Brown:


Dave Valle, born and raised in Bayside, New York, was seven years into pro ball, parts of two in the big leagues, when he played in the Dominican winter league for the first time. A catcher, he’d spent previous off seasons in Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, amassing at-bats, laying the groundwork for what would become a 13-year major-league career with Seattle, Boston, Milwaukee and Texas.


So, he was playing in the winter of 1985 and busing to games through barrios when he began to see through a different prism. His wife, Victoria, had four months earlier given birth to their first child, a boy named Philip. With a son, a family, there came a new responsibility. “I began to look differently at the world,” he said.


The children came to Dave and Victoria and the other players and their wives after a night game. They were 5 years old, 6, maybe 7. And they hadn’t come for autographs, like children in the U.S. might have. As the lights flickered off in the ballpark, and the bus idled, and the streets turned more dangerous, the boys and girls had come looking for food.


Nearby, a woman had set up a small grill in the parking lot. She cooked pieces of chicken and warmed rice and beans. She’d sell a plate to the fans and players on their way home.


Victoria, of Cuban descent and conversant in Spanish, offered the woman a handful of cash and asked her to prepare her entire inventory. With Philip in his arms, Dave passed food to the children.


As they drove away from the parking lot, Victoria turned to Dave and said, “That felt good, didn’t it?” “Yeah, it did,” he said. “You know,” Victoria said, “when they wake up tomorrow, they’ll be hungry again. We didn’t solve anything.”


Five years later as Dave’s career neared its mid-point, the Valles believed it was time to return to the Dominican Republic, to re-engage with the people and their lives, to help the next generation of hungry children. Eventually they founded Esperanza, a non-profit organization that granted small loans to women who needed more inventory for their new and used clothing shops, to men who needed a new pushcart from which to sell bottled water, to hopeful, hard-working and desperate Dominicans who had children to feed and educate and vaccinate.


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I feel fortunate that our lives touched Dave Valle’s even for a few minutes more than 30 years ago. He’s grown up nicely indeed.

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