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Enmanuel Valdez reflects on playing for Boston, his childhood team

Red Soxes

“Just thinking about it now gives me goosebumps. »

Enmanuel Valdez imagined himself wearing a Red Sox jersey. This year, he finally succeeded. Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Young Enmanuel Valdez imagined getting into the batting box at Fenway Park all the time. He always wondered what it would be like to do it in real life, and he could only imagine the rush of euphoria that would fill his body just by being on that diamond.

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This scenario was one of his favorites to recreate in his head. As a child in the Dominican Republic, Valdez often dreamed of playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox, the team that made his father, grandfather, and ultimately himself such avid fans. The mere thought of wearing the same jersey his idols David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez wore was enough to keep him engaged in the sport throughout his life. Of course, it was just a dream, a dream that most people don’t realize. But for Valdez, it was a dream worth chasing.

Valdez entered the batting box at Fenway Park again on April 19, 2023. But this time he didn’t have to imagine it.

Even thinking about it now gives me goosebumps,” Valdez told Boston.com through translator and mental skills coordinator Adan Severino. “It makes me feel good to be part of something and [fulfill] my dream to play for the Red Sox.

This at-bat had far higher stakes than any he imagined having as a child. It was his first time facing a major league pitcher, making it his first impression of the league he had always wanted to join. But fundamentally, this at-bat was no different than the ones he envisioned. He just needed to be mindful and swing in tune.

And he did. He hit a splitter from Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Ryan toward the green monster. He ran 106 mph without his bat and passed Twins infielder Jose Miranda for a single. Valdez had just recorded the first hit of his Major League Baseball career, and he did it in the stadium he had always dreamed of doing.

“It’s a memory that will stick with me,” Valdez said.

He kept this memory for a few weeks before another bigger one came back to him. On May 1, 2023, Valdez stood at the plate against Toronto Blue Jays starter José Berríos with two strikes. At that time, the Red Sox and Blue Jays were tied with three points apiece. Valdez had a runner on first base, and he only had one chance to get him forward before he struck out.

Valdez had no margin for error here. He had to do one-shot magic. So when Berríos threw a four-seam fastball at him at 95 mph, he swung as hard as he could and crushed the ball into the stands at Fenway Park.

He shouted and waved his fists in celebration as he rounded the bases. The crowd roared for Valdez’s first major league home run, but they couldn’t be more excited than him. His childhood dream came true before thousands of eyes.

“It’s really one of those things where I’ll never forget what those emotions were like,” Valdez said. “Just to hear my name and have the opportunity to land my first hit, my home run and everything I’ve ever dreamed of, but also to be able to help my team, and it’s so important for me to know that I was able to do it in a big field like Fenway.

Valdez always aspired to help the Red Sox win, but he put those dreams aside when he started his professional career with the Houston Astros, the team he signed with as a teenager. But those feelings resurfaced in August 2022, when he learned he and outfielder Wilyer Abreu were traveling to Boston as part of the Christian Vazquez trade.

“After I had an opportunity in Houston, I didn’t think about it. [helping the Red Sox] so much because I was trying to be where my feet were,” Valdez said. “But when I got the opportunity to play at Fenway, I was thrilled.”

He finished that season and started the next at Triple-A Worcester, where he made a name for himself as one of the best hitters in the Red Sox system. He struggled to open 2023, averaging just .180 in 45 plate appearances, but that didn’t stop Boston from giving him his first shot at the big leagues while shortstop Yu Chang was recovering from a hamate operation.

As soon as he arrived at Fenway Park, he asked all kinds of questions of his new teammates, like a wide-eyed freshman hoping to learn from the more experienced upperclassmen.

“I would seek out and reach out to people within the clubhouse saying, ‘What can I expect? What can I do? How will I feel? Valdez said. “And the biggest piece of advice they gave me was just, ‘Don’t worry too much about it. Just enjoy the moment, accept it, and you’ll be fine.

Valdez took the advice of his teammates and agreed to become a major player. For the first time, he found himself in the same league as the people he observed and learned from as a child. He even had the chance to meet some of the people he admired, including a staple of his youth: Xander Bogaerts.

Bogaerts is responsible for some of Valdez’s most formative memories as a Red Sox fan. The current Padre was a rookie in the 2013 Boston World Series, a race Valdez watched a lot with his father and grandfather. The three remained friends for the duration of the playoffs that year, all obsessed with future world champions.

“I watched every game,” Valdez said. “I was so interested, so excited about it.”

Valdez was particularly fond of Bogaerts. Studying Bogaerts home plate appearances helped him better understand the game and improve his skills as a baseball player. And nearly a decade later, third baseman Rafael Devers introduced Valdez to his hero at a dinner party when the Red Sox were in San Diego to face Bogaerts’ new team, the Padres. But despite being Valdez’s opponent, Bogaerts treated the rookie like a close friend and little brother that night.

“It was an amazing experience because he was such a nice guy,” Valdez said. “He gave me advice.”

Valdez has received advice from many people, from teammates to opponents to coaches. He thanks the Red Sox for helping him grow as a baseball player, and he’s grateful for all the love and help they gave him as a rookie. He said he appreciated the openness of the Red Sox as an organization, especially their coaches, and it’s one of the things he remembers most about his first stint with the team.

“Honestly, everything I learned here was really helpful because of the coaches because they offer so much compassion and so much help,” Valdez said. “And it’s been great to be part of a club that’s open and willing to offer that advice and help.”

When Valdez returned to Worcester, he was able to share what he learned with his teammates, especially Abreu. Valdez considers Abreu one of his closest friends since they’ve been together in the Astros system. The two talked a lot about Valdez’s time in the majors and what Abreu should expect when Boston calls him.

“Abreu and I had conversations about what the experience was like,” Valdez said, “and I offered him advice and ideas like, ‘Don’t worry too much about it.’ ‘Don’t stress too much when you get up there’ so he doesn’t make any mistakes and feels comfortable.

Valdez wants to give the same advice to all young baseball players who want to one day play for their favorite teams. Moreover, he would tell them to focus strictly on improving and working on their game and never stray from that dream because it just might come true with enough dedication.

“What’s really important,” Valdez said, “is having that chilly mindset where you’re just obsessed with what you need to do and worry about your goals.”

Although it sounds simple, Valdez acknowledges that this advice is much easier said than done. Bad games will happen and things can look bleak, and at different times quitting smoking is going to be very tempting. But Valdez said it was just a sign to keep improving and not giving in to adversity, because analyzing those horrific moments is a key method to learn and prepare.

“It’s not easy. It’s never been easy,” Valdez said. “It’s not easy for me, it’s not easy for anyone trying to be successful. But the important thing is to work hard and smart, to ensure that you are able to make gains so that when you do, you are prepared and can do what you need to do.

Valdez said anyone has the ability to make it to the big leagues, but everyone has to work hard to get there. He would know. It was this mindset that allowed him to play for the baseball team he grew up with. All the fans have always wanted to play in their childhood team, including Valdez. But achieving that dream was a far more wonderful experience than he could have imagined as a kid, pretending to stand in the batting box at Fenway Park.

“It’s been amazing,” Valdez said. “I can’t even really express it in words.”


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