To say Eric Valent was a college baseball standout would be an understatement. More than 20 years after his career at UCLA ended, he still holds the Pac-10 record for career home runs with 69 and team records for career RBI with over 200.
The La Mirada, California native also led the Bruins to the 1997 College World Series and was named Pac-10 Player of the Year in 1998. Valent was selected in the first round of the 1998 MLB Supplemental Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies.
During his five year MLB career, Valent showed legitimate power at the plate. His best season was 2004 while playing for the New York Mets, when he recorded career highs in every statistical category. Now 43, Valent works as scout in the Miami Marlins organization.
We chatted about his affinity for collecting Don Mattingly as a kid, his own rookie card photo shoot and more.
Tony Reid–You grew up in Southern California between two major MLB franchises but you had an affinity for a superstar on the East Coast. Tell us what you liked about Don Mattingly.
Eric Valent-Growing up, I was an Angels fan. I grew up in the Anaheim Hills, so I was only a few minutes away from the stadium. My dad would take me to games. My dad was a Yankee fan, though. He gave me my first hat which happened to be a Yankees hat. I was eight years old. I wore that thing out. I wore that thing every single day. Don Mattingly was my favorite player. I collected every single card of him. Back when I was a kid, when you collected cards if I had a page of nine cards I tried to get the same card nine times. That’s what you did with every single one. You got nine of every single card and you had page after page of cards in the album. Donnie Baseball, man, I used to collect every card I could find of him at card shows.
TR–Back in the mid 80’s his rookie cards in 1984 Donruss, Fleer and Topps were the hottest thing going.
EV-Oh yeah. So, we had slowly got rid of all of our cards. I have my cards now but slowly over time we had sold off our cards here and there. I used to collect a lot of signed baseballs when we went to card shows. We got Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Bo Jackson and a bunch of other players. I still have all of my signed baseballs.
TR–Were the Donnie Baseball cards your favorite as a kid?
EV-Looking back, I used to love the 1987 Topps card, with that wood border. That was 1987 so that would probably fit, timewise, with where I was at and how I felt about cards at the time. I specifically remember that year and how different those cards were from the normal cards. I really liked that set.
TR–Being a collector and growing up loving the sport and the hobby, do you remember seeing yourself on a trading card for the first time?
EV-I don’t remember the first time I saw myself on a card but I remember the first photo shoot I did. It was in Clearwater in 1999, the year I was drafted. It was me jumping up against the wall. I had turf shoes on. I was throwing the ball up and posing. I definitely remember the first shoot.
TR–Being a slugger I had to laugh because nearly every single one of your rookie cards must have come from that shoot, as you are fielding, robbing a homer off the wall and throwing the ball. You were shown as a big time fielder. What did you think when all those cards came out of you playing defense?
EV-Yeah I started out hot with the cards but they slowly dissipated because my career didn’t become what they thought I was going to be (Laughs).
TR–You collected more than cards and autographs, right?
EV-Back when I was younger, when I was nine until I was 13 or 14, growing up in California we got hot and heavy into cards. Me, my dad and my brother. Back then cards shows were huge. There was a time when I was collecting Beckett magazines. We had the first ever Beckett. They weren’t worth that much but we had a huge Beckett collection. I had the Bo Jackson cover. I was getting them signed. We were buying boxes of cards. We were huge in to cards and the magazines.
TR–Being a collector and enjoying the hobby, did you manage to hold on to some of your own cards over the years?
EV-Oh, yeah. I still have all my old cards. I give them out to friends here and there when people ask me for them. I still get fan mail to this day. People are sending multiple cards to me. I sign the things and wonder, what are they trying to get 99 cents for the card? I sign them all but I probably get 3 to 5 letters a week still and it just makes me laugh.
TR– Signing through the mail has made a comeback of sorts. Did you send fan mail out to players when you were a kid?
EV-I remember doing it. I specifically remember Sid Fernandez sent me a card back. Joe Carter sent me a card back. When that address database book came out I was send letters to everyone!
TR– Do you have an office or designated space for your collection and your personal memorabilia over the years?
EV-My boys have the Bo Jackson ball. They have a few of the other balls, too. I have a junior and a seventh grader. They have a few of the balls from when I played. The rest of the balls are in a box next to my jerseys that are in a box with a bunch of my other stuff. I thought one day I would get around to displaying them.
Growing up, my mom used to put pictures up everywhere. I guess I wanted my kids to find their own identity. I didn’t want to shove anything down their throats, especially if they didn’t want to play baseball.