EVERETT — Eighteen years ago Dave Valle hung up his baseball spikes and catcher’s mask, trading them in for a microphone and a headset.
Tonight Valle officially shifts into reverse, stepping out of the booth and back onto the field.
For the first time since 1996 Valle is back in uniform, beginning his journey as a manager as he takes the reins of the Everett AquaSox.
The former major-league catcher, who spent a decade behind the plate for the Seattle Mariners, has left the comfort of the broadcast booth, choosing instead to spend a summer hitting grounders, pitching batting practice and riding the bus as he helps mold some of Seattle’s youngest prospects into players who will hopefully someday grace Safeco Field.
“I’m going to get some blisters on my hands hitting fungoes,” Valle said with a smile. “But I’ve told the players they’re lucky because they’re going to get the best BP they’ve ever had.”
Said AquaSox executive vice president Tom Backemeyer: “We’re excited, we couldn’t be happier. It’s not only going to be fun for us, but fun for the fans and good for the community.”
And for Valle, it’s the first step down a path he hopes leads back to to the majors.
It’s not as though Valle was in need of a job.
Valle has kept himself plenty busy since retiring as a player. Following his 13-year career, that included stints with Seattle, Boston, Milwaukee and Texas, Valle immediately jumped into broadcasting in 1997. He’s been involved in Mariner broadcasts ever since, most recently being a part of the pregame and postgame television broadcasts on Root Sports — his farewell broadcast was Monday. He also works as an analyst on the MLB Network.
“It’s been great,” Valle said of his broadcast career. “It’s been a great way to stay involved in the game of baseball.”
When Valle isn’t broadcasting, he’s heavily involved in Esperanza International, a foundation started by Valle and his wife Vicky in 1995. It began as a microfinance organization that arranged small loans for the impoverished, particularly single mothers, in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It has since expanded to include work in health care, education and water projects.
“It’s one of those things that as I look back on life, it probably brought me the most sense of purpose in my life,” Valle said.
But Valle still had an itch to get back in the dugout.
A fateful phone call
Valle was a take-charge individual during his playing days, both on and off the field, making him the type who was always considered manager material.
“I’ve always known I wanted to manage,” Valle said. “I had all my managers tell me I should manage. I just was never ready to do it until my children were out of the house.”
Therefore, over the past 17 years the extent of Valle’s involvement on a baseball field was limited to coaching his son Philip’s team during the boy’s teen years, a coaching stint that ended 10 years ago.
Valle’s youngest child, his daughter Alina, is now 20 and a sophomore in college, freeing Valle up for the tantalizing possibility of returning to the field. But though Valle now had the time available, it was a phone call out of the blue that got the ball rolling.
It came from Jack Zduriencik.
The Seattle Mariners were without a manager after Eric Wedge resigned with a week remaining in last season’s schedule requiring Zduriencik, Seattle’s general manager, to find a replacement.
He decided Valle warranted an interview.
“They called and asked if I would have an interest,” Valle recalled. “I was like, ‘Yes! When would you want me to show up?’ It was that simple, that quickly.”
Valle might have seemed a curious candidate, considering his lack of managing experience at any level. However, the St. Louis Cardinals found success when they hired a former major-league catcher with no prior experience in 2012. Mike Matheny guided the Cardinals to the playoffs in his first season and to the National League pennant in his second. Matheny’s success made Valle a more viable candidate.
“(The interview) went well,” Valle said. “Jack and I had a great baseball conversation for five hours and felt good about it. I completely understood the fact that I did not have prior experience, even though you’ve seen that recently. I knew it was a longshot, but I really felt honored to be a part of the process.
“It kind of reignited my passion for the game — not that I ever lost it because I’ve been a part of it all these years,” Valle added. “But I’ve always enjoyed investing in people, kind of like I’ve invested in the Dominican Republic and the people there, and (baseball) is something I’ve known my entree life and it’s probably what I know best.”
Lloyd McClendon was eventually hired as Seattle’s manager, but the Mariners thought enough of Valle to give him a shot in the minors.
“They gave me an opportunity to come up here in the summertime and be part of it,” Valle said. “I’m very lucky and very blessed.”
On to Everett
Now Valle is back on the field and getting his chance to show what he can do when in charge.
“I feel like I’ve just adopted 30 young men,” Valle said. “I’ll be a father, I’ll be a coach, I’ll be a motivator, I’ll be a mentor. I’m looking forward to being a lot of things.”
Valle made a good first impression with the players.
“I’m really excited,” said Sox infielder Jordan Cowan, a native of Covington who grew up listening to Valle on Mariners broadcasts. “I met him during spring training and he’s an awesome guy, so I’m really looking forward to it. He’s very knowledgeable, so I think he’s going to teach us all how to play the game and teach us winning baseball.”
Valle’s time in Everett will give him an opportunity to develop a managing style and determine the things he best brings to the table as a manager.
“Hopefully the first and foremost is how to be a professional, how to approach this game day in and day out,” Valle said. “It’s a very difficult game as we all know, it’s a game of failure. How do you handle that failure and come back the next day? How short is your memory about the 0-for-4 yesterday or the home run you gave up in the bottom of the ninth to lose the game? It’s about handling those things and not getting too high or too low, understanding this game is played out over a long period of time. It’s the guys who stick in it day in and day out who end up at the top.
“I want to see how well I do passing on what I know about the game to these guys — and if I’m any good at it.”
If he is, Valle will look back at Everett as the place where it all started.