CLEARWATER, Fla. - Jose Valentin was in Mexico last week waiting for a phone call. His son - Phillies infielder Jesmuel Valentin - had been finished playing for a half-hour. The father’s cell, as it always does, would soon ring.
Jesmuel Valentin grew up in major-league clubhouses, following his father across the country during his 16-year major-league career. Valentin is now working to follow his father’s path and carve out his own place in the majors. With each step, there is Dad waiting for a call.
“I really enjoy those calls,” Jose Valentin said during a break from coaching with Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic. “I watch every game and then I want to see how he feels. I want to see if he has something that he wants to share or maybe I have something to share that can help him become a better player.
“That’s the reason we talk every night. I’ll do anything that I can to make my kid a better player, especially when I played the game for a lot of years. I went through what he’s going through. ”
Jesmuel Valentin, who will turn 23 in May, has a shot this spring to make the Phillies as a backup infielder. He already has a spot on the 40-man roster, which provides an advantage as the Phillies could place him on the opening-day roster without placing a player on waivers.
He played exclusively last season in the minors as a second baseman but is spending time during camp as a shortstop, the position his dad manned during his career. Baseball, Jesmuel Valentin said, is his family’s destiny. His uncle, Javier, played 10 seasons in the big leagues. He has cousins who are prospects.
It would be fitting if he fulfilled that by learning the position his father played so well.
“Just follow the steps. That’s one of the things he always told me,” Valentin said. “He always said, ‘Don’t try to do the same thing or better than I did. Just have fun. My career was my career. Your career is your career.’ He wants me to get as much out of baseball as I can.”
Valentin batted .269 last season with a .341 on-base percentage in 125 games between double-A Reading and triple-A Lehigh Valley. He has impressed this spring with his speed, solid defense, and a strong arm.
His time in the minors has not always been smooth. Valentin missed the first four months of the 2015 season because he was suspended after being arrested in April and charged with domestic battery. He pleaded not guilty, and the charges were dropped after an investigation by the Florida State Attorney’s office “concluded that the facts and circumstances revealed do not warrant prosecution.”
Valentin played the final two months of 2015 with high-A Clearwater and moved to double A to start last season. He had a .977 fielding percentage at triple A, turning double plays with top prospect J.P. Crawford. Scott Kingery, a second-base prospect, is pushing hard for the majors. Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez already have jobs. Competition is thick.
“Right now, I hope everyone does well,” Valentin said. “I’m not trying to think about it. It’s not like I want someone to get hurt or anything like that or wishing bad luck on them. It doesn't matter if I’m starting -- it only matters if the team is doing well. If the team is winning, I’m happy. I definitely want to be there, and I’m competing to have a spot every day as hard as I can.”
Jose Valentin played for four teams before retiring in 2009 after spring training. He helped the White Sox win a division title in 2000 and helped the Mets get within one win of capturing the pennant in 2006. But it is a night from the 2003 season that sticks with him the most.
Jesmuel Valentin, who grew up in Puerto Rico, had arranged to be homeschooled so he could spend the year on the road with his dad and the White Sox. He picked the brains of the players, such as Magglio Ordonez and Puerto Rican icon Roberto Alomar.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things that helped me out,” Jesmuel said. “Just growing up around those guys, being in the clubhouse with them, learning every single day, watching close what they’re doing, and trying to copy. When you’re a little guy, you want to copy everything those guys are doing.”
He attended every game, watching his dad play from a TV in the clubhouse and talking to him between innings. A July night in Kansas City provided the biggest thrill. He told his father before the game to hit a homer. His father said he would.
“He did. Then I asked him for one more. And he did,” Jesmuel said. “Three-homer game. It was awesome to be right there with him. He would come into the tunnel after each homer, hug me, and give me a kiss. It’s one of the best images I have.”
And now, almost 15 years after he waited for his dad in the clubhouse, his father waits for him.