PLAYING WITH PERSPECTIVE: VALERIO THRIVES IN HONOR OF HIS DAD
Perspective is a virtue that hasn’t come easy to Dan Valerio, administered like a baseball bat to the gut in the form of heartache and pain vicariously absorbed while watching arguably his biggest fan endure physical hardship.
Things once taken for granted are now more appreciated while objectives deemed important are a little less difficult to conceptualize with quick, somber reflection. Valerio’s outlook on life, and how quickly it can be altered, took an unforeseen and unfortunate twist in February when his father, Dan Sr., suffered a stroke that has left him recovering at Riverview Hospital in Red Bank for the last four months.
His dad has always been an influential figure in a baseball career filled with ebbs and flows but with a consistent upward trajectory, the guy who would ritually feed pitches on an empty field to help a son hone his craft. This spring, each drew solace from the other; the son inspired to achieve great things in tribute to the man who developed him into who he has become and the dad anticipating the daily phone calls with a happy recap.
“I don’t know what it was. In January, leading up to season, I was playing for myself and the (Major League Baseball) draft,” said Valerio of his priotities heading into his junior year at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., an NAIA program. “Once he had the stroke, all my attention went toward him getting better. He loves that I play baseball and hearing the good news. Every time I got into the batter’s box, I did it for my dad. I had a new purpose and it allowed me to have the best season of my career.”
Valerio paid homage with a fairy-tale breakthrough of epic proportions. He hit at a .390 clip, collecting 97 hits, including 17 homers and 27 doubles, swiped 29 bases and knocked in a school-record 84 RBI, all while driving the Fire to its first NAIA national championship. His efforts earned the junior left fielder a spot on the NAIA All-American Second Team.
One of those things didn’t materialize quite like either had hoped two weeks ago. Valerio’s perseverant and meteoric rise, one that began at Red Bank Catholic before he transferred to Monmouth Regional and continued at Gloucester County College prior to landing at Southeastern, thrust him onto the radar of a number of Major League teams preparing for the MLB Draft. Yet, when the call he anxiously awaited never came, he still had the fall back of making the one he always looks forward to dialing.
“I would still be able to talk to my dad,” said Valerio, whose younger brother Mike played for Monmouth Regional and just completed his freshman year at Ocean County College. “He has the same passion and energy and it did open my eyes. There’s more than baseball. That’s not how I used to view it. Now, I’m focused on making my dad happy. When all this this happened, it allowed me to enjoy the game again and play it for a bigger purpose.”
Valerio opted out of competing in the New England League this summer in favor of returning home to spend quality time with his family, a hard-working clan grinding tirelessly. His mother Carolyn works three jobs while Dan Jr. is working at a local restaurant, yet making time to visit with his dad whenever possible.
Thus, Sunday was a special one for the Valerios. Yes, celebrating Father’s Day in a hospital pales in comparison to barbequing on the grill, but it was still an invaluable chance to sit and reflect with a father always there to lend an ear.
“It was slightly different and tough being in the hospital,” said Dan Sr. “But, I gotta keep on plugging.”
“It was still a special day,” added Dan, Jr. “I was only able to see him for an hour because I had work, but we spent some quality time and I cherished the moment.”
And, there’s that perspective again, instilled through unfortunate circumstance, but able to be capitalized upon….with more special moments to come.