By Dorian Rangel
Despite a couple of career setbacks, East Los Angeles College baseball Assistant Coach Phillip Valdez continues to devote himself to the game he has played his whole life.
Valdez was 7 years old when he first started playing baseball. “I pretty much did the same thing everyone else did, playing in park leagues. I got a shot to play travel ball with the Boyle Heights Giants,” Valdez said. Valdez played for the Giants under coach Jaime Valle as a pitcher and first baseman.
“He was a great ball player. He would always be on the field and was a great leader. Sometimes he would be in charge of the team,” Valle said.
While Valdez played with the Giants he began think about his future in baseball.
“This is where you got serious about baseball because it’s a little more advanced and the kids you are playing against are serious,” Valdez said.
Valdez took what he learned playing with the Giants into his playing days at Theodore Roosevelt High School.
“It (travel ball) was a big part of my baseball career because I ended up learning a whole lot about the game, about myself and figured out that it was something that I really enjoyed. I then tried to apply that to high school,” Valdez said.
Valdez said that he also enjoys basketball but has never chosen to play any other sport than baseball. “I knew if I was going to have a future in baseball and have some success playing, that I really had to pay attention to that and that only,” Valdez said.
After graduating from Roosevelt in 2001, Valdez attended and played for ELAC from 2002 to 2004. Valdez’s first career setback came in 2003 when he had shoulder surgery and was subsequently placed on the injured list.
The year Valdez was forced to take off was when he received his first look at what coaching was like. “Sitting there in the dugout you get to hear everything that you don’t hear when you are playing. Us trying to outsmart them, them countering what we do. It was like a chess match and that intrigued me,” Valdez said.
“Being forced to take that year off, sitting and watching, I thought it was going to be the worst year of my life. The first year I don’t play baseball and it ended up being the turning point. I’m happy that it happened,” Valdez said.
Then in the 2004 season Valdez returned from the injured list but didn’t get much playing time because he was beaten out by another player.
Valdez’s second career setback came in 2005 when he transferred to Mount Mercy College in Iowa, but was declared ineligible to play during the season.
“After winter break I went back to school over there (Mount Mercy), and I was told my transcripts where overlooked and I didn’t have three units in a certain area that needed to be covered,” Valdez said.
After returning to Los Angeles, Valdez attended an ELAC baseball game at California State University, Los Angeles, where he ran into ELAC baseball Head Coach James Hines.
Valdez told Hines what had happened to him. Hines then offered Valdez a job as an assistant coach for the baseball team. “I hired him (Valdez) out necessity because at the time we only had two assistant coaches. Since I brought him on, he’s turned out to be, pretty much, one of the best coaches we have had in our program,” Hines said.
Upon returning to Los Angeles, Valdez took some classes as ELAC, but never returned to playing baseball and eventually stopped school altogether.
Outside of coaching at ELAC, Valdez also works with the nonprofit East Los Angeles Dodgers organization, which is dedicated to further developing players’ skills and providing them with various opportunities.
“We try and create opportunities, and hopefully somebody is watching, and these guys get an opportunity to play at a four year and if it’s a four year kid on their way out, hopefully there is a professional scout out there who likes what he sees,” Valdez said.
Some of Valdez’s inspirations in coaching and life are ELAC assistant coach Adan Millan and Hines. “The passion that coach Millan brings to the field, you feed off if it. The way Hines goes about his day and his professionalism, how he is with parents and how he is with his family. He (Hines) does everything right. At least that how I see it,” Valdez said.
In addition to coaching at ELAC, Valdez also works graveyard as a supervisor at Progressive Produce. During his free time, Valdez enjoys spending with his niece and nephews, who also play baseball.
“I love being around them. They wear me out and the good thing is you get to give them back at the end of the day,” Valdez said. Valdez was born and raised in East Los Angeles to Felipe and Carmen Valdez; he is the third of five children.
Despite having coached at ELAC, off and on for the past nine years, Valdez does not allow himself to become complacent.
“I’m in a really good spot but at the same time I feel like I’m auditioning for my job next year. That is the only way you can stay hungry and stay motivated. I want to be here as long as I can. I learned a lot here and I’m just trying to return the favor,” Valdez said.