Playing for others: Frank Valentino shares his experience with Paul and Adryana Navarro
With great power comes great responsibility, and once Frank Valentino earned the right to pitch in the New York Mets farm system, he couldn’t wait to share that platform with those who have special needs.
Earlier this month, the Long Island native invited his friends Paul and Adryana Navarro to MCU Park to tour the clubhouse and grounds that host future major league stars. With mom and dad following closely behind, siblings Paul and Adryana were led by Frank, motoring their respective wheelchairs through the cemented hallways that traverse the bowels of the stadium for an inside look behind the scenes.
They soaked in the action, receiving Cyclones gear, equipment, and select souvenirs in a home run-laden 5–0 Brooklyn victory against Tri-City.
“I just wanted them to be happy,” Valentino said. “I wanted to give them something that nobody’s ever given them before.”
Frank’s relationship with the Navarro family began in his junior year at NYIT when the baseball club teamed up with The League of YES — an organization dedicated to bringing baseball programs to those with disabilities. While they have kept in close contact since their meeting in 2016, Valentino had to postpone showing off his “baseball world” until he felt the moment was right. When the Mets called him away from his independent team in Florence, Kentucky in June, Frank knew he’d reached the most prolific stage of his baseball career.
“When I was called to New York, they were the first people that came to my mind,” Valentino said. “I felt that I could do something special for these kids.”
He wanted to give the Navarro family the best of the best, and the Big Apple, the New York Mets, and the thunderous crowds of MCU Park on Coney Island provide just that.
Though the two kids have been to MCU Park to watch Frank pitch, August 19 was Paul’s birthday. High fives and fist pumps from fellow Cyclones players rained down on the brother and sister combo as they made their way through the clubhouse. Valentino wanted to give them something they’ve never had before. He succeeded. According to his mother Karen, it became Paul’s best birthday memory.
Frank has done what he can to touch their lives, but their infusion of joy has given the West Islip pitcher something he never anticipated.
“Every game that they’ve been to I’ve pitched well,” he said with a smile. “It’s like having an angel on your shoulder.”
Angels do well when they’re unseen. That grace happened during Brooklyn’s trip to Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Out of the blue, Adryana sent Frank a quick hello text. That day, coincidentally his day to start, Valentino was untouchable. Against the Crosscutters, he struck out seven batters and allowed one hit in six scoreless innings.
“I just have that sense of help or freedom when they’re around or we talk.”
Full disclosure, Frank did not ask for this story to be written. He didn’t make a fuss or gather the photographers when Paul and Adryana arrived. But this story had to be told. Valentino desires to share his daily experience, spreading the wings of charity and giving to those who are less fortunate — whether the public knows it or not.
“It’s the best part about the game,” Valentino said. “There’s some people that you come across in your life when you tell yourself, ‘I’m supposed to do something to help these people and have an impact on them.’”