This is a guest post by Mordecai Specktor, Editor and Publisher of the American Jewish World newspaper. This article originally ran in the September 30, 2011 print version of the newspaper.
The Twins lost to the Mariners in a night game Sept. 20. Trailing 5-4, they came up to bat in the bottom of the 9th and loaded the bases with no outs. Then Michael Cuddyer struck out, Chris Parmelee hit a grounder to the first baseman who fired home for the force out, and Valencia grounded out, third to first, to end the game.
Valencia, who was 0 for 5 that night, could have hid out in the players-only area of the clubhouse after the game; but he dressed and then talked with the American Jewish World.
A day after marking his 27th birthday, the Jewish third baseman admitted, “I’m really disappointed. It’s been a disappointing year for me, for the team. We came in with high expectations — I had high expectations for myself — and we haven’t lived up to what we wanted to do and that’s frustrating.”
- Going into the series with the Mariners, Valencia was hitting .250, after hitting .311 in 2010, which was the second best rookie average for the Twins all-time (Tony Oliva hit .323 in his 1964 rookie season).
Although Valencia was leading Twins hitters in at-bats (556) and RBI (72), as the AJW went to press, he’s not where he wants to be.
“I’m not satisfied with my [batting] average,” he said, and added that was the main thing bothering him. He had 15 home runs, the good RBI number.
“I always prided myself on hitting .300, and I haven’t done that this year. It’s frustrating for me, especially coming off a great year last year,” said Valencia, who displays a more mature bearing this season. “It’s just one of those things you learn from… and you hope you can make some adjustments.”
On the upside, the popular ballplayer is engaged, and he and his fiancée are planning a 2012 wedding.
Getting back to the batting average, several baseball geeks have weighed in on Valencia’s drop-off this year; there is a controversy over what some view as a “sophomore slump.”
Writing for 1500ESPN.com, back in June, Phil Mackey said, “Valencia has actually been one of the unluckiest hitters in baseball so far this season.”
The luck factor is based on the fact that Valencia has put the ball in play on liners, which have been caught at a higher percentage rate this year. Early in the season, Valencia had a 20 percent liner percentage (the league average was 18 percent). However, his batting average on liners was .568, compared to his .771 average on liners in 2010.
So, it’s either bad luck — his hits on a rope are missing the open spaces — or opposing teams have successfully shifted their defenses with Valencia at bat.
So what does he think?
“It’s just part of the game. I consider that I’ve been unlucky this year — and I’m sure that I have, to a point,” he responded. “Like I told you, it’s been frustrating, not only myself, but for the team. It eats at you. And now we’re on a 10-game losing streak, and it eats at you even more. There’s really nothing more to say about that.”
Asked about his plans for the off-season, Valencia said, “I’m going to Taiwan with Major League Baseball for some games over there. That’ll be fun.”
Otherwise, the plan is to relax. And work on his defense and offense.
“Come back bigger, stronger, faster, more agile, more mobile for next year,” he said.
I wished Valencia a happy New Year and headed out of the clubhouse.
On the way out, I ran into Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, who was leaving his office. Gardy peeked out into the hallway and muttered, “They probably want to kill me.”
In the shank end of a miserable Twins season, it seemed that things couldn’t get much worse. But two days after I talked Valencia, he and teammate Denard Span were driving in separate cars from Target Field to the airport, when Span ran into the rear of Valencia’s vehicle.
Valencia’s car, which was driven by his fiancée, reportedly sustained more damage in the fender bender, while Span’s head came out somewhat worse for the encounter.
Gardenhire heard about the accident when he arrived at Progressive Field in Cleveland. Both Valencia and Span had headaches and were benched for the Friday night game.
“It’s not funny, but it’s typical of how this season has gone,” Gardenhire told the Pioneer Press, regarding his players’ traffic accident.