Ethan Valdez – A Story of Resilience
Author: Joey Johnston –At the moment, Ethan Valdez’s baseball journey looks awfully smooth. He’s a slick-fielding senior shortstop for Jesuit High School, one of Tampa’s perennial powerhouses. He has secured a scholarship to Division I Wagner University, which overlooks New York’s iconic skyline. Before heading to the next level, maybe Valdez can help the Tigers contend for a state championship.
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE?
But it’s always easier to enjoy the end of a journey. If you want to know more about how the road rises and falls, the gritty stuff that never gets much attention, you start at the beginning.
For Ethan Valdez, the path to baseball prosperity was paved through frustration, doubt and heartbreak. Giving up? Never a consideration. Getting better? Now you’re talking.
During the worst juncture — when he was twice cut by Jesuit’s team as a freshman, then again in the fall as a sophomore — Valdez placed his trust in the coaches of Baseball University.
Some days, Valdez felt like his world was crashing down. Addison Maruszak, the former professional player and BU’s director of operations, just shrugged and never got emotional.
“It’s OK, you got cut, so what?’’ Maruszak said. “That’s baseball. Players get cut. Players get traded. You’re not going to hit 10-for-10. But you can show up on our field tomorrow, work with us, get in the gym, work on your craft.’’
At 5-foot-7 and 140 pounds (soaking wet), Valdez became accustomed to quickly being sized up by coaches. At BU, only his desire seemed to matter.
One day, Valdez was waved over by Mark Newman, a former college coach and New York Yankees’ executive who lends his expertise to BU.
“I don’t care how big you are,’’ Newman said. “If you want to play this game, you can play this game. Don’t let anyone ever say that you can’t.’’
Valdez didn’t just sprint back to his position.
“It just seemed like Ethan was getting the right words at the right moments,’’ said Valdez’s father, Bob. “If Ethan trusts the people working with him, he’s absolutely lights-out. I think when people told him, ‘Look, you’re a good player. Keep working,’ he said, ‘OK, who am I to doubt them? I’m going to work.’ ‘’
Valdez’s determination kept making positive impressions.
“I think Ethan is seeing some vindication because he has been scratching and clawing,’’ said Todd Silverman, who coached him with Score International. “I was a smaller guy, too. I can relate. You never get credit. You have to keep proving yourself. That’s what Ethan has done.’’
“The energy and work ethic Ethan brings to a session, it’s hard for me to put words to it,’’ said Valdez’s personal trainer, Nicole Gabriel, who owns Tampa-based Explosive Performance, a firm that works with major leaguers such as Hunter Pence, Sean Rodriguez and Lance McCullers. “He has been so overlooked because of his size. But he’s usually one of the strongest in the room. I’m sure the disappointments and struggles have made him work harder. There were tough times. But every time he walks through the door, he has the same energy and drive.’’
It was noticed by Wagner coach Jim Carone, who sought a middle infielder from Florida. Valdez was endorsed by Maruszak and local coaches, so a quick invitation was sent for Wagner’s weekend camp.
At first, there was skepticism.
“Is this a real thing? Should we go?’’ Valdez’s father said.
“If you can get on a plane, yes, you should go,’’ said Maruszak, who knew Carone’s intentions were sincere.
On three days’ notice, Valdez found himself at Wagner, a school he included on his initial recruiting list because, well, he was a Yankees’ fan and the campus location looked pretty cool. Before long, Wagner coaches took a special interest, giving him extra fielding reps and a few more rounds of hitting.
The next week, the call came. Wagner officially offered him a spot. From initially getting cut at Jesuit to earning a Division I scholarship. Some journey.
“Perseverance, I guess, is the biggest thing,’’ said Valdez, who has a 3.3 grade-point average. “I’ve learned to only worry about the things I can control and to try and work harder than anyone else.
Durin his senior season in spring 2019, Ethan won a spot in the starting lineup and eventually became a State Champion for the prestigious Tampa Jesuit Baseball Team.
“Baseball is pretty much the majority of my life. It’s a huge definition of who I am. I was never going to give up, but the coaches at Baseball University really got me going in a good direction. They were very encouraging. It’s built more on development instead of being bent on winning every game over the summer. It suited me well. It made things a lot of fun and I was very comfortable. I got better.’’
Valdez said defensive plays account for his most memorable baseball moments. Valdez attributes his defensive instincts and hand-eye coordination to proficiency in … the “Guitar Hero’’ video game?
“I think Ethan was on the expert level at age 7,’’ Valdez’s father said.
Valdez has become a real-life guitar hero. He is self-taught in the guitar and serves as president of Jesuit’s guitar ensemble. After baseball, he usually winds down by plucking on some chords, rehearsing a familiar tune or learning a new song. Recently, he began playing piano.
“I think I have a good ear for music,’’ Valdez said. “It comes kind of naturally to me.’’
Sort of like baseball.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else,’’ Valdez said. “I’m excited that my work is paying off and good things are happening.’’
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