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Remembering 2014: Wilson Valdez looking to hone his unique baseball legacy

Valdez pitching

The off-season is upon us, but we have plenty of content to keep you occupied here at BlogToBlogChamps.  Each Monday, we’ll publish a feature from the 2014 York Revolutionary Times, the official game day magazine of the York Revolution, for you to re-enjoy, or read for the first time in case you missed it at the ballpark.  This week, we re-visit Ron Gardner’s profile of seven-season Major League veteran Wilson Valdez, who spent 2014 at shortstop for the Revolution.

By Ron Gardner

If a player accomplishes something in a Major League Baseball game that hasn’t happened since Babe Ruth last did it way back in 1921, you can count on the fact that people will be talking about it for a very long time.

From personal experience, Revolution shortstop Wilson Valdez knows this very well.

You see, back on May 25, 2011, Valdez started at second base that night at Citizen’s Bank Park for the Philadelphia Phillies against the Cincinnati Reds. After nine innings, the score was tied 3-3. Reds outfielder Jay Bruce homered leading off in the top of the 10th inning to give Cincinnati a 4-3 lead, but Phillies’ first baseman Ryan Howard responded with a lead-off homer of his own in the bottom of the 10th to re-tie the game 4-4.

What ensued was one of those marathon games that would go on, and on, and on, finally ending in the wee hours of the following morning, long after nearly everyone in the ballpark had gone home for the night. After using eight pitchers to get through the game’s first 18 innings, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel had run out of pitchers in his bullpen for the top of the 19th. That’s when he called on Valdez to take to the mound to face the 3-4-5 batters in the heart of the Cincinnati lineup.

“They asked me a few times before it happened if I could pitch and I said ‘Yeah, why not?’” Valdez said. “And then when they told me (to pitch) I was ready for it.”

Despite having never pitched before in the minors or the big leagues, Valdez needed just 10 pitches to retire the Reds without them scoring. He got reigning NL MVP Joey Votto to fly out to deep center, then hit Scott Rolen with a pitch, before retiring Bruce on another fly ball, followed by relief pitcher Carlos Fisher popping out to second base to end the inning, much to the delight of the few diehard fans still in the stands.

Even though it was his first (and only) pitching appearance as a professional, the 5-11, 160-pound Valdez gave a pretty convincing “performance” on the mound, even shaking off his catcher Dane Sardinha a few times trying to keep the Cincinnati hitters guessing about what type of pitch might be coming next.

“Yeah, I shook him off a few times, but it was nothing like important,” Valdez said with a grin.   “I was shaking (him off) because I didn’t want them to feel comfortable at the plate. I have a couple different pitches. I don’t want them to feel like I’m going to be throwing all fastballs.

“I know I’m going to be coming with all fastballs, but I wanted to be messing with their heads so they don’t think I’m going to be going with all fastballs.”

Then in the bottom of the 19th, in true Hollywood style, the Phillies dramatically scored the winning run with two outs when Raul Ibanez’s sacrifice fly brought home Jimmy Rollins from third base, finally ending the 6 hour, 11 minute marathon contest at 1:19 a.m., making Valdez the game’s winning pitcher.

Valdez became the first position player to record a win as a pitcher since catcher Brent Mayne won for the Colorado Rockies in 2000 and just the second since 1968. And here’s where that opening Babe Ruth reference comes in – Valdez was the first player to start a game in the field and end up as the winning pitcher since Ruth last did so on October 1, 1921.

“Everybody keeps talking about that game,” Valdez said, now nearly three years after the fact. “I don’t think it was the only game I played. Everybody keeps talking about the game that I pitched. I mean that’s the only thing they can talk about…they don’t say all the other good things I did in the game.”

Which is an extremely fair point, considering the fact that Valdez had also three hits in that game against the Reds, along with a sacrifice bunt, a sacrifice fly and a walk.

“It was great,” Valdez said. “I feel great and it’s something I can tell my kids about later on when they grow up.”

But Valdez doesn’t want to be known only for his one inning of work on the pitcher’s mound – history-making or not. He wants to be recognized for all of his accomplishments during his seven seasons playing in the big leagues for the White Sox (2004), Mariners (2005), Padres (2005), Dodgers (2007), Mets (2009), Phillies (2010-11) and Reds (2012). The 35-year-old native of Nizao, Dominican Republic, is a career .236 hitter (6 HR, 107 RBI) in 439 major league games and also holds a lifetime .283 batting average in the minors.

In 2010, Valdez played a key role for the Phillies en route to their run to the National League Championship Series, posting career-high hitting numbers (.258 BA, 4 HR, 35 RBI in 111 games) filling in for the injured Juan Castro, Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Valdez continued to see significant playing time (99 games) for Philadelphia in 2011 as a valuable utility player (.249 BA, 1 HR, 30 RBI).

Valdez was traded to Cincinnati before the 2012 season and played in 77 games for the Reds, starting in 44 games. He elected free agency after the season and played briefly for the Miami Marlins Triple-A team in New Orleans at the beginning of 2013, before he signed with the Atlantic League’s Camden Riversharks in late May.

With Camden, Valdez established himself as one of the league’s top players, finishing second in the Atlantic League in stolen bases with 37, and tying for second in the league in batting with a .310 average and placing fifth in on-base percentage at a .384 clip.

After watching Valdez perform well against his squad and the entire league last season, York manager Mark Mason opted to trade for Valdez this past off-season, agreeing to deal infielder Wilson Batista to Camden in order to bring Valdez to the Revolution.

“I know he puts the bat on the ball, he’s is a great defensive player and he runs well,” Mason said. “That’s pretty much what I knew and what I saw last year when he was in Camden. I knew he would make our defense better and he’s a great two-hole hitter because he hits the ball. I like everything I saw about Valdez and I’m glad he’s on our side and not the other side.”

Mason is counting on Valdez and his years of MLB experience to help strengthen York’s defense in 2014.

“He’ll help move guys around,” Mason said. “He’s a veteran out there. He’ll position guys, he’ll help move everybody around (and) he’ll take a lot of pressure off of us as far as trying to move the defense a lot. He’ll be a captain out there in the infield and he’ll do a great job.”

And while Mason knew all about Valdez’s unique pitching experience against the Reds three years ago, calling it “pretty impressive,” the Revs’ skipper said don’t go looking for Valdez to reprise his role on the pitcher’s mount for York this season.

“I’m not a big fan of throwing position players,” Mason said. “That’s how they get hurt. So no, I don’t see that happening.”

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