Like Father, Like Son: José and Jesmuel Valentín
The following story by John Nolan originally aired on The Fan 1380 on May 15.
You know how the old saying goes, “like father, like son.”
But when it comes to TinCaps manager José Valentín and his son Jesmuel, that expression really rings true.
“Oh, he mimics his father,” said Razor Shines, who once coached José in the major leagues with the Mets in 2007 and now manages Jesmuel with the Great Lakes Loons. “That’s his father’s son. You can believe that.”
“The way he carries himself, is very similar to the way José carries himself,” said TinCaps reliever Matthew Shepherd after seeing Jesmuel for the first time. “The way he runs — definitely the way his body looks.”
“Pretty much they look like the exact same guy,” Fort Wayne outfielder Corey Adamson said. “Both little dudes who speak Spanish.”
And the similarities between 43-year old José and his 18-year old son Jesmuel don’t stop there. Like his dad was, Jesmuel is a switch-hitting middle infielder. Like his dad, Jesmuel wears uniform number 22. And like his dad, Jesmuel is now in the Midwest League.
“From the moment I got called up, I just looked at the schedule to see when I was going to face my dad,” the younger Valentín said.
Jesmuel didn’t have to wait long. After an injury sidelined him during spring training, the 2012 1st-round pick of the Dodgers was called up to Great Lakes on April 25. Just two weeks later, Jesmuel was in Fort Wayne for a three-game series against the TinCaps.
“It was a little hard in the beginning,” the elder Valentín said. “It felt kind of different than other days. You hate when your son is going to fail. You want him to see him doing well, but the other way, he’s playing for the opponent. I’m happy. I’m enjoying it as most as I can. I wish him the best. He can have the best game ever, but I have to get the win.”
“He didn’t tell me our pitcher is going to throw you this or throw you that,” Jesmuel said. “No, we are father and son, but we’re on opposing teams. This is pro baseball. We have to leave love and family out of the game when the game starts.”
As it turned out, José and the TinCaps swept the series at Parkview Field. But for the father, maybe more rewarding than the victories was having the chance to see his son play professional baseball right in front of him.
“I didn’t push him to follow my steps,” José said. “That’s something that came from him. He wanted to be like daddy. Then when I figured out he really had a feel for the game of baseball, yeah, I tried to teach him.”
And it’s his dad’s 16 years in the majors that Jesmuel credits for helping to turn him into a prospect.
“The years that he played and I was able to watch him and join him was one of the best things that helped me build as a player and become mentally tough like I am right now,” Jesmuel said.
Spending the first 14 years of his life around big league club houses also allowed Jesmuel to develop a baseball acumen well beyond his years.
“I tell you what, his baseball IQ is as good as anyone’s here,” Shines said. “There have been a few plays he’s shown that. One comes to mind where we’ve got runners on first and third and there’s one out. There’s a ball hit to the second baseman’s side. He comes in, fields the ball, fakes the pitch to second, tags the runner, and then throws to first for the out. It’s not going to be a doubleplay ball if he goes to second with the ball.
That’s just something you can’t teach. It’s just instincts. You either got ’em or you don’t, and he has ’em.”
Although having a big league baseball-playing father meant Jesmuel didn’t always have his dad around as a kid growing up in Puerto Rico, it also made for some pretty memorable moments in the summers.
“I remember he was with the White Sox,” Jesmuel recalled of his fondest memory. “I was in the dugout. He hit three home runs in the same game. After every single home run he went to the dugout, gave me a hug, and kissed me after all the three home runs. It was a really, really good experience.”
But for José, more important than showing Jesmuel how to hit home runs, has been teaching him how to act away from the diamond.
“Being a ballplayer in the big leagues is great, but you’ve got to earn it and you’ve got to work hard and be the same guy everyday,” said the former Brewer, White Sock, Met, and Dodger. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing well or doing bad, you’ve got to respect people. If you want people to respect you, you have to know how to treat people off the field and on it. And always being friendly and smile.
Even when bad times are on top of you, that’s when you have to be strong mentally. You’re only going to be a ballplayer for so long a time, but you’re going to be a person forever, so you’ve gotta be a good person — not just a good ballplayer. You’ve got to be both of them.”
With those lessons in mind, the race is on between José and Jesmuel to see who makes it back to major league dugouts first.
“I want him to make it more than myself to be a manager in the big leagues,” the dad said. “My time as a player in the big leagues was enough. So it’s something that’s not easy, but I think he has enough to make it.”
Meanwhile, his son dreams of them making it together.
“I hope. I hope,” Jesmuel said. “It’ll be a great experience. And I hope we can be on the same team. That would be the greatest experience ever.”
Note: The Dodgers transferred Jesmuel from Great Lakes to extended spring training in early June.