Danny Valencia plays for the Israel baseball team in Tokyo

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Danny Valencia is baseball’s ultimate companion.

After playing at Spanish River High and the University of Miami, Valencia were a 19th round draft pick in 2006 with the 576th player taken. Considering about half of the first-round picks that year never made it to the major leagues, it looked like a long shot at best.

But Valencia were called up by the Minnesota Twins in 2010 and remained nine seasons, playing for seven MLB teams, including two stints with Baltimore. His career numbers were solid if not spectacular – averaging 0.268, 795 hits, 95 homers, 397 RBIs.

“I played every year like I played next year,” Valencia recalled recently. “I had to fight like hell to keep a job – I never had a multi-year contract.”

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Valencia, who will turn 37 in September, are set to add another step to their baseball journey. He will represent Israel at the Olympics, the culmination of a three-year effort that began after playing his last MLB game in 2018.

Danny Valencia Received “Normal Jewish Education” in South Florida

Valencia was born to a Jewish mother and a Cuban father who converted to Judaism. He said he had “a normal Jewish education,” including a bar mitzvah at Beth El Temple in Boca Raton.

But the idea of ​​playing for Israel only crossed his mind when baseball first achieved Olympic status since 2008. To qualify for the national team, Valencia had to become an Israeli citizen by law. of return, which gives Jews the right to enter the country as immigrants and apply for citizenship.

In this photo from January 14, 2020, Danny Valencia throws a ball during the Israel National Baseball team's practice in Tel Aviv, Israel.  Valencia attended Spanish River High and the University of Miami before a nine-year MLB career.  This summer is the culmination of a three-year trip for Valencia, who became an Israeli citizen and helped the country qualify for the Olympics.

Valencia first visited Israel in 2019 and said he was “blown away” by the history, the scenic beauty and the overall vibe. “I wouldn’t say I’m an extremely religious person,” he said. “But I’m definitely a more spiritual person since I’ve been there.”

He spent about 10 days working his way through the citizenship process.

“It was a long process and a lot of obstacles to overcome, but it makes sense,” Valencia told the Jewish News Syndicate. “There was paperwork, interviews, FBI checks, marriage certificates, postiles, rabbi letters and more. It was a tedious process, but without it there would be no passport.… I’m glad I did. “

Valencia were one of Israel’s best players in Olympic qualifiers

Israel faced long chances in trying to reach the Olympics. The team placed fourth at the 2019 European Championships, behind the Netherlands, Italy and Spain, but slipped into the Olympic qualifying tournament as one of the top five. South Africa, champion of Africa, completed the peloton.

Playing five games in five days, Valencia led the Israelis to a 4-1 record in round robin qualifying in Italy, including an 8-1 win over the Netherlands in what turned out to be the tie-breaking for the championship. A batsman on third and playing on first, he led the team in home runs (3), runs batted in (9) and runs scored (7).

“Everyone played well, including me,” said Valencia. “Everything happened at the right time.”

Israeli Olympic baseball player and South Florida native Danny Valencia batting practice in Scottsdale, Ariz., Earlier this year.  Israel qualified for the six-team baseball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics, which will be its first Olympic Games appearance in any team sport since 1976.

And then came COVID-19. Instead of participating in the Olympic tournament in July 2020, the Israel team would have to wait another year. “For guys like me who don’t play,” Valencia said, “all we’ve done is get old.”

But Valencia never had any doubts about continuing their course in baseball.

“These are the Olympics,” he said. “It’s obvious. I think anyone in my position would do the same.”

Valencia joined their teammates last week in New Jersey, where they began an exhibition tour to prepare for the Games. Once again, the Israelis face a “skyrocketing”, in his words. They were placed in Group B along with the United States and South Korea. After facing each of these teams on July 29 and 30 to determine the standings, they will enter the playoff round against the Group A teams of Japan, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

The Israel National Baseball team will count on former major league player and South Florida native Danny Valencia at this summer's Olympics.

With only a handful of players with MLB experience – Valencia, Ian Kinsler, Ty Kelly, Ryan Lavarnway – winning a medal would be a “huge accomplishment” for Israel, Valencia said.

Valencia call the trip to Tokyo “the icing on the cake” after a long and satisfying baseball career. When he returns home to Delray Beach, he hopes to keep his hand in baseball, possibly in the front office of an MLB team.

“I kind of know what’s going on on the pitch,” he said. “I would like to know more about what is happening above.”


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