National Underclass impresses Valentin

Showcase : : Story
Jeff Dahn        
Published: Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Bundled up in a heavy New York Mets jacket to guard against an untimely Southwest Florida chill, former Major League infielder Jose Valentin seemed impressed nonetheless with what he was experiencing at Perfect Game’s 2010 National Underclass Showcase – Main Event.

Valentin had come to the Boston Red Sox 5-Plex Player Development Complex – the Showcase featured batting practice sessions and games at nearby Terry Park – to watch his son, Jesmuel Valentin Diaz, perform in front of college coaches and professional scouts.

“This is my first time and it’s not going to be my last time,” Valentin said. “I might get my son involved in this type of tournament more. … But here, you’ve got everything here. You’ve got some people who know the game of baseball and they want what’s best for the kids. Every time I get a chance to bring him here or anywhere in the States, I will.”

At showcases such as this one, players not only engage in individual workouts and skill sessions, but are also grouped into teams for 10 inning games. Many of the players who attend PG showcases come with teammates from their summer travel teams.

At this year’s National Underclass, Valentin’s son is a member of the PG Purple team, a 17-member squad that features 11 young players from Puerto Rico. Valentin Diaz, a 16-year-old junior middle infielder, attends the Puerto Rico Baseball Academy in Manati, P.R., which is also his father’s home town.

“At a (showcase) like this – you can’t ask for something better than this,” Valentin said. “This is something that you can find anything here. It’s a time to show your skills (and) you can learn and (get valuable) experience. For kids getting ready to be drafted, it’s an experience that you will never forget.”

Valentin, 41, was signed as an amateur free agent by the San Diego Padres in 1986, before there was Perfect Game USA and before Puerto Ricans became eligible for the First-Year Player Draft in 1990.

He made his Major League debut with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1992 and spent 16 seasons in the big leagues with the Brewers, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets before retiring after the 2007 season.

“I wish I could go back and … have this, what these kids have right now,” Valentin said. “Who knows how many good players (could of come out of) that time. But from my experience that I went through and getting all this experience for my son, and I compare that time to this time, and right now it’s a lot easier.

“As a dad – at the time I used to play I wish I had spent some time in a situation like this – now that I got my son here, it’s the first time that I’ve been here and it’s been a great experience for me.”

Valentin not only pointed to the opportunities for exposure Perfect Game provides young players at its events, but also feels young players are more skilled today thanks to the emergence of baseball programs, schools and academies in Puerto Rico and the United States. The talent is developed and Perfect Game provides the exhibition hall.

“You’ve got people that are really involved in teaching the kids how to play the game of baseball,” Valentin said. “For me, it is a lot easier now than it used to be at the time I used to play. Hopefully (Jesmuel) will get some experience, and listen and learn.”

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