Baseball more than a game for Monmouth Regional grad Valerio
Dan Valerio’s life has taken many twists and turns but the Monmouth Regional graduate has taken it all in stride.
Growing up in Tinton Falls, New Jersey, Dan Valerio played several sports with football and baseball being his two favorites. Playing baseball allowed Valerio to participate in Little League and travel teams. Fast forward to high school, Valerio attended Red Bank Catholic, where he tried out for football but was unsuccessful.
“I went to RBC for two years and its kind of all where it started with my passion for baseball,” said Valerio. “The coach told me after hitting.400 on JV that I wasn’t good enough because I would not pass the guys in front of me, and I decided to transfer back to public school.”
“I attended Monmouth Regional High School and in my junior year, we won a state title. It was an incredible being the second baseman with Ted Jarmusz last season. I didn’t hit great, but I was working hard at my craft. Then my senior year, I was a lot better and got all-conference and a scholarship to Rowan College at Gloucester County in South Jersey. The coaches there believed in me more than I believed in myself and pushed me. Rob Valli believed in me and maximized my potential.”
Off To College
While attending Rowan College at Gloucester County from 2014 to 2016, Valerio led the team in doubles in 2016 as the Roadrunners reached the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) World Series twice. Valerio racked up numerous achievements, including First-Team All-County, All-Conference, All-Shore, All-Region, and named Playoff MVP.
“I hit a walk-off home run to reach the World Series in Kingston, North Carolina,” Valerio said. “Going from high school to be the starting third baseman in college. In my sophomore year, I started to take off hitting 28 doubles. The kid who was told he was not good enough and discouraged in high school and never really made a name for himself was just overlooked.”
Valerio’s Life Changes
After deciding to transfer to North Carolina Central in the Fall of 2016, Valerio’s life took a sudden turn for the worse when he was hospitalized with dehydration that turned into overtraining syndrome. “My body was depleted from working too hard over a long period of time and not taking care of myself,” said Valerio. “Along with that came some anxiety and depression. That led me to find Jesus Christ and the church.”
Having to withdraw from NCC, Valerio returned home to New Jersey. Reinvigorated Valerio enrolled at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida in the fall of 2017. Heading back down for the spring baseball season, he earned a starting position. Valerio’s life was turned upside down in a phone call from his mother.
“I get a call from my Mom that my Dad had a massive stroke. He is the backbone of the family, worked for 55 years and was the head honcho. I was not prepared for him to get sick. What happened took away his ability to walk and loss of functions on his left side,” said Valerio.
“I went back and finished up the season where I broke a bunch of school records, hitting 17 home runs, .390 and I was an All-American. I remember when I was a freshman and wrote down goals to hit .400 and be an All-American.”
“It felt good accomplishing that through hard work and perseverance. The team won a World Series and I got to play for the Cape Cod League, which is the premier summer league. My roommate was Spencer Torkelson, who is going to be the number one draft pick. It was very humbling and cool.”
“The school rallied around me. A journalist knew what I was battling and started taking videos and writing stories. A GoFundMe was set up and money raised to get my family out to the World Series. My Dad was in a wheelchair/walker, but he made it to the first game where we played St. Thomas, a rival in Florida. I hit a home run in the first night game and got a picture of my Dad standing up and raising his fist.”
“My senior year, I had a different role on the team with playing some different positions and I hit .350 with 11 home runs. I was a pre-season Golden Spikes, which was the Top 50 players in the country at every Division I level. Head Coach (Adrian) Dinkel basically was the first coach that allowed me to be myself and go out there and play loose. He knew when I needed to be pushed and held accountable. At the time I was a junior, he said, let’s grow Valerio into the player he can be. A funny guy and someone you could mess around with and had you back.”
After going undrafted, Valerio decided to head out to Michigan and play in the United Shores League. Things did not pan out and he returned to New Jersey. All was not lost for Valerio, now having the opportunity to come back and speak to his alma mater Monmouth Regional, continue his education and get involved with the church.
“It didn’t feel like the right fit, so I decided to leave and come home to regroup,” said Valerio. “I was a free agent and trying to get my name out there, and I was not going to stop. I don’t want to look back and say I didn’t give it my all. I have been able to reflect on why this is happening. I was being tested in these moments and strength keeps you going.”
“This past winter, I came back to speak to Monmouth Regional and share my story with the school. It can go one of two ways. If you stay humble, it can be a great avenue to meet amazing people and have that bond. I have that platform now where I used to have an identity in sports but now in faith. A journey to get to where I’m mentally accepting the failure of the game. I have a different mindset and made the adjustment where before I was discouraged but now, I am able to talk it out.”
“I’m finishing up my sports management degree online and am part of a youth group at WellSpring Church in Toms River. I’m hanging out with kids, participating in different activities, talking about baseball and faith. Being able to share my story and be by someone’s side. I’m not perfect. I had my moments where I slipped up and made some wrong decisions. Knowing where I came from and where I’m going, I know what I have to do to make an impact.”
In the end, what is most important to Valerio is his parents and younger brother, who is attending Cabrini University in Pennsylvania and also playing baseball. “I have been blessed to have two parents that allowed me to do something and chase a dream for so long,” Valerio said. “My Mom could have said, ‘Dan, you need to come home and stop because of the money’ because she was working three jobs.”
“My Dad has been my best friend. Just from being on the road with him and him being so present. When I’m down, he’s picking me up. At times he wanted it more than me, which is great and never a pressure thing. If he felt I was going off on the tracks, he would check on me and hold me accountable. He never missed a game, driving hours to see me play in junior college and never missed a high school game.”
“My Dad and I would be on the road traveling to different tournaments and my brother would be pushed to the side a little bit and would say why can’t I grind a little and reap the benefits. There was a time he wanted to hang out with his friends, but he looked up to how I was succeeding on the field and all the hard work paying off and following in my footsteps. He has turned into quite a player as a pitcher/infielder and has a great physique.”
“My Dad’s stroke has been the biggest test. He is different now and speaks a little differently, but the Valerio family keeps finding a way to figure it out. Of course we get depressed, but we keep moving our feet and never slow down.”
Sunil Sunder Raj
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