By Jon Perez
It’s nice to be named John Valente.
It’s even better to be hitting like him.
The St. John’s redshirt junior has jam-packed his stat sheet so far this season, making a name for himself in a season when the Red Storm are defying national expectations.
“I’ve been aggressive when I have to be,” Valente said. “If I don’t swing at the first pitch, I’ve been lucky to get in those plus counts and getting fastballs.”
Valente ranks eighth in the NCAA with a .440 batting average and has five extra base hits in addition to 13 RBI over the first 20 games of the season. Valente’s program-best 30-game hitting streak was snapped in the second game of a double-header with Maine on March 25, but he bounced back the next day with a 3-4 performance with an RBI and three runs scored.
Valente has always been a great hitter, even at a young age. He hit 21 home runs in 16 Little League games as a 14-year old and was a letter-winner in each of his four seasons at New Rochelle Hi gh School. St. John’s was always on his college radar and Valente attended baseball camps with the team when he was in high school.
“I’ve seen them play on TV a couple of times,” Valente said. “Me and my father were really interested in coming to St. John’s.”
A two-way player in high school, Valente hasn’t thrown a competitive pitch in three years, but was tempted to pitch for the Red Storm when he was recruited by then pitching coach Scott Brown.
Valente says that he saw himself in a utility role when he made the leap to the college level. However, St. John’s head coach Ed Blankmeyer says he saw the potential in Valente as a hitter and has reaped the benefits.
“I think his best ticket is his athleticism,” Blankmeyer said. “He has a good arm, we had to find a spot for him because offensively he’s just a solid player. Two-way guys at our level are very tough, you don’t see too many of them, it’s like having two players and they have to put two players’ worth of work into it.”
The former Huguenot red-shirted the 2014 campaign because of grades. It was during that season that his father saw Valente buckle down.
“He didn’t allow himself to go to any of the games,” Valente Sr. said. “He was mad at himself, but he worked hard, made the Dean’s list and I’m really proud of him.”
St. John’s (19-2), ranked No. 5 in the Collegiate Baseball newspaper, is off to its best start since 1981 when the Red Men won 26 of its first 27 games. The ranking is the highest since 1980 when the squad made a College World Series appearance.
While the team seems to have a lot of momentum on its side, Valente says he enjoys the character of this team to make a splash not just in the Big East, but nationally as well.
“We have an energetic bunch of guys,” Valente said. When someone fails, we have someone there to pick them up. I believe we have 35 guys that are pulling on the same rope.”