For Reds' Valentine, Mother's Day is twice as nice
BY MIKE BERARDINO
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
MIAMI - (KRT) -What does the silence mean? That's what Joe Valentine would like to know.
Less than three weeks after his unusual background became public knowledge, Valentine is still trying to interpret the reaction. Or, more precisely, the lack of reaction to the fact this Cincinnati Reds reliever was raised by a lesbian couple.
"I haven't heard much," Valentine said during a recent trip to Dolphins Stadium. "I thought it was going to be a little bit bigger deal, but I wasn't doing it because I wanted it to be a big deal. It was something I tried to do for my parents and for the gay community. They're a huge part of the population."
What Valentine did was tell Newsday reporter Jeff Pearlman about the two women, Deb Valentine (his biological mother) and Doreen Price, who raised him from birth. He mentioned this early in spring training, but asked that the story not be published until the regular season began.
On April 10, Pearlman's lengthy piece appeared in the media capital of the world. Within Valentine's family, the reaction was a mixture of gratitude and wariness.
What would happen next, especially considering he made his living in the conservative Midwest? Valentine braced for the worst. So did his parents, who live outside Sarasota and watched him pitch here last weekend. Would there be right-wing protests outside the ballpark? Would the talk shows blast him for making an issue of his upbringing? Would teammates resent him for being a distraction in the clubhouse?
Would Valentine, who is married, be embraced by gay-rights groups? Would he be thrust into the spotlight as a national spokesman for gay marriage, perhaps the most divisive issue this country faces?
Would his life be changed irrevocably? Would he be held up as the anti-John Rocker?
Turns out, the answer was "none of the above." At least so far.
"I've gotten good feedback (from teammates)," Valentine said. "A lot of guys noticed and read it. They said, `That's pretty cool. That's a pretty awesome thing.' That's really it."
So Valentine is relieved. But part of him is puzzled as well.
In an era when major American team sport is still awaiting its first openly gay athlete, even the slightest differences stand out. Indians reliever Kaz Tadano caused a stir last season after he apologized for acting in a gay adult film while a college student in Japan.
Mets catcher Mike Piazza, who got married this winter, is just a couple years removed from calling a press conference to announce he was heterosexual. And Ring of Fire, a recent TV movie about retired boxing champion Emile Griffith and his sexual ambiguity, drew much attention and critical praise.
So you might suppose Valentine is in a unique position of importance. The more he talks about his upbringing, the more he lets people see what a normal kid he was, the more that wall between sports and sexuality could crumble.
"I would definitely embrace it," he said. "I'm not looking for it, but if somebody would come to me in that situation where they would like me to help out any which way, I would definitely do it. At least people know there are different ways to be raised."
In Valentine's case, he never knew his father. Born in Las Vegas in 1979, he only knew his two mothers, who have been together for 30 years.
The family moved to the New York area in 1982, where they opened a hair salon. Price, who played competitive softball, started throwing a baseball to her son when he was 16 months old.
He took a bad hop off the nose at age 2, blood splattering all over his shirt. But Valentine just ran a hand across his face and got ready for the next grounder.
He's always been tough, this kid with two moms who spent much of his youth playing catcher. He's still that way, ready for whatever comes his direction in light of his decision to open up to the media.
It's not like nobody knew about his background. Going back to Little League, where Price coached him for two seasons, Valentine has always introduced his teammates and coaches to his moms.
"My teammates, my friends, they didn't dislike it," Valentine said. "They loved it. It was like, `Wow, this is kind of cool.' It was something I always embraced."
Warren Hughes, the scout who signed him for the White Sox, sat down in their Pensacola-area home after Valentine was drafted in June 1999. Hughes shook hands with both parents after they agreed to an $80,000 bonus.
Along the way, Valentine has discussed his political views and his background with a select few teammates. But knowing all too well he is a "blue state guy playing in a red state sport," he was careful not to draw too much attention to himself.
"You get older and you get more in the public eye," he said, "you don't know how people are going to look at it and judge you."
Now, in theory, the whole world knows about Valentine's family. And, so far, the whole world has offered a collective shrug.
Is this good? Is this bad? Valentine isn't going to drive himself crazy trying to decode the reaction.
He's just glad he got a chance to say thanks to the women who raised him.
"I just wanted to give them some sort of recognition for this," he said. "I feel in my heart they did a great job with me, and I thought it would be nice to just have them see that I appreciated it."
Agendas aside, that should be enough.
© 2005 South Florida Sun-Sentinel.