EVERETT — Funny how life works. It was an empty nest that gave Dave Valle the nudge back into a baseball uniform after 17 years. And now that he’s managing at the bottom rung of professional baseball as skipper of the Everett AquaSox?
“I feel like I’ve just adopted 30 young men, 30 sons,’’ Valle said, smiling.
Valle is sitting in his cramped office in the old school district building behind Everett Memorial Stadium, five hours before game time Friday. If not for this interview, he would be in the batting cage, working with his fledgling ballplayers, most just barely out of their teens. His day is a blur of activity from the moment he arrives in the early afternoon.
“It’s busier than I thought it would be,’’ he said, noting that his night doesn’t end until he’s filed the requisite reports to his Mariners bosses after each game. Only then can he make the half-hour drive back to his Bellevue home.
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But Valle, who has been a Mariners broadcaster since his playing career ended in 1997, is loving every minute of it. At age 53, he is attacking his new career with the zeal of a rookie, but possessing the wisdom from having spent six years in the minors himself before making it to the major leagues with the Mariners in 1984.
“It’s been energizing to be back, trying to help these young guys figure out how they can advance through the game,’’ he said.
With the AquaSox off to a 4-11 start, and possessing a .226 average heading into the game Friday with Spokane, much of that energy has been spent in the realm of encouragement. The AquaSox roster is sprinkled with players from the past two June drafts, as well as Latin players recently elevated from the Mariners’ academies in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Valle knows that at some point he’ll have to give most of them a pep talk or five — if he hasn’t already. But he also knows the ability to cope with the inevitable frustration inherent in a baseball season might be the most valuable skill his players take with them up the baseball chain.
“I remember, because I’ve been there,’’ Valle said. “I’ve had to tell them, guys, I hit .202 (actually, .204, in 1978 with Bellingham) in this league. So I know what it feels like. … That was 36 years ago, but just to help them get through some of those tough times. We’ve had tough stretches already, and we’ve only played 15 games.”
Valle figured this was the perfect time to jump back into baseball beyond the broadcast booth, after turning down past inquiries. With his youngest of three children now a sophomore in college, he threw his name in the mix when the job in Everett opened up.
“My wife said, ‘Let’s see what else is out there,’ ’’ Valle related.
Everything fell quickly into place. General manager Jack Zduriencik offered the job in January after Valle went through the interview process. MLB Network and ROOT Sports, with whom Valle was splitting duty, gave their blessing to take a hiatus. And so when spring training came around, Valle found himself back on the field in Peoria in anticipation of Everett’s season, which began June 13.
Managing in Class A ball can be a multifaceted experience. A day earlier, he had called a group of Latin players into his office to urge them to use the Mariners’ Rosetta Stone program to learn English, telling them: “You’re investing in yourself. If you want to get to the big leagues, you have to be able to communicate in English. That’s just the way it is.”
Sometimes, he’s had to get down to basics, like instructing his players what to call him. Hint: Not “Coach,’’ as a few players tossed out there.
“I’m like: ‘OK, timeout. You’re a pro now. You can call me Dave, you can call me Skip, you can call me Vall. But no more coach.”
In one of Everett’s early games, Valle was startled to see his two base runners had retreated to the dugout for a water break during a pitching visit from the opposing manager, while Valle was chatting with his batter.
“I said: ‘OK, did you guys have your snack? Please get out there. By the way, from now on, you don’t leave the bases. This is professional baseball,’” Valle recalled, laughing.
Valle already has had the pleasure of telling a couple of players they were being promoted to the next level, and the delicate task of telling another he was being sent to Pulaski, a lower-level team. But Valle took the edge off the hurt by telling the youngster he would get more playing time.
Valle, who like most minor-league managers doubles as the third-base coach, has had a few beefs with umpires, though he’s yet to get tossed — an outcome he says that Kevin Cremin, producer-engineer on Mariners’ broadcasts, is eagerly awaiting.
“I’ve probably yelled more in the last 12 days than I’ve yelled in the last 17 years as a broadcaster,’’ he said, noting he had to stand up for his players in the game Thursday over some questionable calls in an 11-strikeout night for Everett.
Valle said he believes broadcasting helped prepare him for the strategic aspect of managing, and he hopes he’s on a track that will one day land him back in a major-league dugout. The losses have so far come with much more frequency than the wins, including a ragged 10-4 loss Friday. But Valle is well aware that at this level, it’s all about development. He reminds his players constantly that every day, every action, matters.
Kind of like a father would.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146