TEMPE, Ariz. When Wilson Valdez says, “I’ll play anywhere,” he sounds like that old Hank SnowWillie Nelson song: “I’ve Been Everywhere.”
On a baseball field, Valdez has been everywhere. When you ask most players what they play, they answer with pitcher or catcher or infielder or outfielder.
You ask Valdez what he play and he says, “Baseball.” And he means it. By trade he was signed as a shortstop, but he has also played second base, third base and all three outfield spots.
And that’s not all. You want him to pitch? He’ll do that, too, and did it.
Last May 25, the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies played a game deep into the night, long after the beer vendors went home from Citizens Bank Ball Park.
Valdez started the game at second base but by the time the 19th inning rolled around Phillies manager Charlie Manuel’s bullpen cupboard was as bare as Old Mother Hubbard’s kitchen cupboard.
Who do you call? Wilson Valdez. He pitched a scoreless 19th and the Phillies scored a run in the bottom of the 19th for a 5-4 win. Winning pitcher? Wilson Valdez.
He was the first Phillies position player to win a game on the mound and the first player to come into a game from another position to pitch a winning game since some fellow named Babe Ruth did it in 1921.
The Reds were so impressed that they traded for the 33-year-old Dominican in the off-season, sending pitching prospect Jeremy Horst to the Phillies.
He figures to be a utility player for the Reds, which figures, because Utility could be his middle name.
He has played mostly infield this spring, but on Thursday against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim he was in center field for the second time this spring.
“When we traded for him I asked some scouts, some friends of mine and scouts in our organization about it and they told me that he is a fine center fielder,” said manager Dusty Baker. “You don’t find many utility guys who can do both play infield and outfield. One of the few I ever saw was Derrel Thomas (Dodgers, Padres, Giants), who was equally as good playing shortstop, second base and the outfield.”
Thomas put in 15 years playing all over the field for seven different teams, mostly the Padres, Giants and Dodgers.
“Valdez can throw, has a really good arm that enables him to play the outfield,” said Baker. “He told me, Papi, whenever and wherever you need me.’ You hear things, like he is good in the outfield, but you want to see it for yourself.”
Without being brash or cocky, Valdez looks a questioner point blank in the eye and says emphatically, “I can play anywhere. I just come to play. I’m ready to play, to help the team. I come to the ballpark ready to help the team as best that I can.”
Asked what position he likes best or prefers, he says quickly and right on cue, “Don’t matter. As long as I help the team, that’s the only thing that matters.”
When his one-inning pitching exploit was mentioned, he smiled and said, “Like I said, I can do anything. Anything to help the team. Whatever it takes to help my teammates, I will do that. I’m ready. Always ready. Any time I have a chance to go out there and help the team, it doesn’t matter to me where or how.”
Valdez appreciates wearing a major-league uniform because it took him seven years to wear one after the Dodgers signed him 1997. He made is debut with the Chicago White Sox in 2004.