In the “10 questions with…“ series here at The Bell, I’ll be interviewing various individuals with some connection to the Philadelphia Phillies or who have some other baseball connection.
The interviews take place in a Q&A format where I ask each participant 10 questions (I cheat once in awhile with a multi-parter) involving themselves, their history with the ball club and/or the game, and hopefully also get their insight on the current team.
Respondents are always asked to be as long or as short as they like, so content length differs with each interview. Link to prior installments in the series in the drop-down box at the “Phillies” section of our website toolbar.
Our next interviewee is the second actual former Phillies player to take part. Eric Valent was chosen by the Phillies in the first round of the 1998 MLB Amateur Draft out of UCLA in his native California.
Valent played five seasons in Major League Baseball, including parts of 2001-02 in a Phillies uniform. He has also been a scout in the Phillies organization and is now a scouting crosschecker in the Miami Marlins organization.
10 Questions: ERIC VALENT
1. You were born in La Mirada, California and grew up basically halfway between Los Angeles and Anaheim. Which were you a fan of as a kid: Dodgers or Angels…or neither or both? Any childhood baseball heroes?
EV: I grew up in Anaheim Hills, which was about 10 minutes from Angels stadium so I was definitely a more of an Angels fan growing up, but I did like the Dodgers as well. I just loved the game and wasn’t tied to a particular team overall. My favorite player was Don Mattingly growing up. My grandpa gave me a pro style Yankees hat when I was a kid and I wore it every day because Don was my favorite player. I collected all his cards and used to mimic his batting stance and playing style when we played wiffle ball games in the street.
2. You’re drafted by the Tigers out of high school in 1995 but chose to attend UCLA instead of turning pro. Can you explain a bit about that decision making process in your situation, one that many good, young ballplayers have to make at some point?
EV: The decision to attend UCLA, rather than sign professionally out of high school was pretty easy for me. I had a full scholarship to UCLA and I told MLB teams that it would take top-two round money for me to forgo my commitment. My talent wasn’t quite top-two rounds out of HS, but I knew it would be in three years after (playing at) UCLA. My college experience provided me with a great education, lifelong friendships, a college world series appearance and ultimately I was drafted in the supplemental first round in 1998 of my junior year. It ended up working out great on my end.
3. At UCLA you played with Chase Utley, Troy Glaus, and Eric Byrnes. Two questions: How did you guys not win a College World Series, and was Byrnes as wild then as he often appears now?
EV: Our 1997 team was very good. We had a great offense and solid starting pitching, but our bullpen wasn’t that deep. And yes, Eric Byrnes of today is the same wild man he was back in the day. We were roommates my sophomore year and he would wake up at 7AM on a weekend when the rest of us were sleeping, and yell the phrase, “Today is going to be a great day!” and then proceed to go on a four or five mile run. This happened a lot!!
4. The Phillies chose you in the supplemental first round of the 1998 MLB Draft, the same year that they took Pat Burrell at first overall. Do you have any particular memories of being notified about the selection, and your thoughts on it having been the Phillies, who were on a downturn at the time?
EV: I remember sitting in my apartment at UCLA with a couple of my buddies waiting for whatever team to call to notify me of my selection. I thought I’d go somewhere in the 24-35 pick range. I never even really spoke with the Phillies scout back then before the draft because they were picking 1 and then 42. The scout assumed that I wouldn’t be there for their 42nd selection. Low and behold, the Phillies selected me and I was off and running in my pro career come July. I didn’t know much about the Phillies, besides watching them in the 1993 World Series, and of course their premier players back in the day like Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.
5. You hit 69 homers in college, a Pac-10 record, but reportedly told USA Today that hitting homers in college didn’t mean you would hit them as a pro, because aluminum bats are used in college. What is your opinion of aluminum bats at the college ranks on a safety and competitiveness angle, equipment replacement cost considerations aside?
EV: As far as a safety and competitiveness angle, I believe they have engineered the bats in a way to ease the trampoline effect off the barrel, so hitters must be more precise in their contact to really impact the baseball.
6. The switch to wood bats didn’t seem to affect you much in the minors, as you slammed 76 over your first four seasons rising through the ranks. By the time you were finally deemed ready for a big-league shot in the 2001-02 seasons, the Phillies had a pretty solid outfield of Burrell in LF, Doug Glanville in CF, and Bobby Abreu in RF. Did you feel as blocked as it appeared? You got some action in ’01 at first base. How did you feel that went?
EV: I did feel blocked a bit, but one can’t ever forget there’s 29 other teams watching you as well. So, if one is a good player, someone will notice and try to acquire you. I was always a streaky hitter and that’s what kept me out of the major leagues on a consistent basis. As a tweener type player, which means I wasn’t quite good enough to play everyday and my streakiness didn’t play very well in a utility role, I found myself always grinding to stay in the big leagues. First base was short lived. I was exposed to the position my first big-league camp in 2001. I was headed to Triple-A to start the season and the Phillies wanted to expose me to another position to help my versatility. I was never truly comfortable there, but I played okay. I played sparingly there in my big-league career. My offense didn’t take off quite as well as they hoped and the experiment kind of faded as the season went by.
7. You get traded to Cincinnati for catcher Kelly Stinnett in August 2003. Was it a shocker? Any interesting stories from your time in Cincy?
EV: 2003 was the worst year in my career. It was my last option year with the Phillies and I was back in Scranton for a third season. I was ready for a change of scenery, and Ed Wade traded me to the Reds at the end of the Triple-A season. I was grateful for the opportunity because I had a poor season and the Reds were giving me an opportunity to re-establish myself. The Reds were in upheaval that year and we had a huge roster of fringe MLB players that September. Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr., and Adam Dunn were all hurt, as were other established major league players. A couple of things from that year. I remember that was Barry Larkin’s last year and he bought a Mercedes for Rick Stowe, the longtime Reds clubhouse manager, and presented it to him with all of us watching outside the clubhouse. It was really cool to witness that. Also, a funny story about me playing right field in Wrigley against the Cubs. There was a dead patch of grass in right field where Sammy Sosa would position himself a lot. It was pretty much straight away right field. So, I was positioning myself there and the right field bleacher fans started yelling “get out of Sammy’s box!” The fans and I got a kick out of that. I always enjoyed banter with the fans in the outfield in my career.
8. Finally you get a shot to play fairly regularly with the New York Mets in 2004. 130 games, 300 plate appearances. Played with a couple of pretty good 21-year-old in David Wright and Jose Reyes, as well as Hall of Famers Mike Piazza and Tom Glavine. Any special moments from that year that you can share?
EV: That was my best season in the big leagues for sure. I hit for the cycle, had three pinch-hit home runs, and just felt I finally established myself as a major league player. That was a great time for me. I was around a lot of fun veteran players like Mike Piazza, Al Leiter, Tom Glavine, Todd Zeile, John Franco, Steve Trachsel, Ricky Bottalico, Cliff Floyd, and Mike Cameron. I remember Todd Zeile was retiring that year and the Mets did a tribute for him on our last home game of the season. His wife and children were on the field with him as they all watched the video tribute the Mets put together on the Jumbotron of his playing career. It was special to see Todd fulfill his childhood dream of being a productive major league player for a long time. Our first son, Christian, was born in June of that season which made the season even more special.
9. Can you share any memories of what it was like playing the Japanese Pacific League?
EV: Japan ended up being a short-lived experience for me. I signed with the Rakuten Eagles towards the end of May and it ended up taking about three weeks to get my visa to start playing. I was staying in shape in Japan with our interpreter, but without a visa, you’re unable to practice with the team so everything was on my own. Once I got my visa, I figured I’d get about 30 AB’s or so in the minors to get my timing back. Well, the first doubleheader I played, I went 4 for 6 with a homer and some walks. The next day they called me to their big-league team. I had hoped for more AB’s in the minors to work thru some things, but they wanted me up there immediately. My streakiness showed up rather quickly and I found myself once again shuffling from the majors to the minors, but in a different country..lol! I knew I was at the end of my career because for the first time in my career I felt as though I was playing for the money rather than for my true love of the game.
10. You are now working with the Miami Marlins organization. Can you give us some insight on your role, and how quickly you see the Marlins young talent developing to a contending level over the coming years?
EV: I’m a national crosschecker for the Marlins. My primary responsibility is to scout amateur players across the country for the draft and provide reports on the players to see which players fit best for our organization. We have a lot of talent in our pipeline and I know the best years of the Marlins are coming soon. It’s hard to put a timeline on any club because so many variables can get in the way. But we’ll be ready for sustainable success when the time comes because we have the foundation set across all levels of our organization.