LAKELAND, Fla. — His teammates call him Johnny .300.
Detroit Tigers infielder John Valente, a 21st-round pick in the 2018 draft from St. John’s University, hits for average but doesn’t hit for power. He is comfortable at multiple positions but isn’t considered a superstar.
The 27-year-old played 82 games for Triple-A Toledo last season, hitting .293 with two home runs, 23 walks and 25 strikeouts. Now, he is competing for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic.
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In a 25-minute phone interview with the Free Press, Valente talked about playing for Team Italy, his style as a hitter, his relationship with his grandmother and his “angel in the outfield” when he plays.
(This Q&A has been edited slightly for length and clarity.)
What’s your connection to Italy, and what does it mean to be playing for Team Italy in the WBC?
“My grandmother (Angelina Valente) was born there. She came to the United States sometime during the 1950s. She was from a small town, Calitri, and she’s very proud to be from there. She represents it. A couple years ago, Italy reached out for me to play in the Olympics. That was during COVID, so it was harder to get dual citizenship and never really went through. As the World Baseball Classic was approaching, at the end of November or beginning of December, I reached back out to them to see if there was any interest and what the qualifications were. Luckily for me, it went pretty smoothly. I filled out a questionnaire to be a citizen and had to prove ancestry. I think I have like 60 family members that I don’t even know that still live there. As far as me playing for Italy, and representing the country, it’s a huge honor because my grandma and me are very close. When I told her the news, she was smiling from ear to ear for weeks. She probably still is.”
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What’s your relationship like with your grandmother?
“I’m gone for a lot (because of baseball), so we try to talk twice a week on the phone. During the offseason, I normally get to go to her house about three or four times a week. She’s a ‘Jeopardy’…
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