Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Sun Sentinel.
South Florida baseball player Danny Valencia prepares to play for Israel in the Olympics as the capstone of his professional career.
BOCA RATON — Danny Valencia grew up in Boca Raton, playing baseball for Spanish River High School before taking the field at the University of Miami and later making it all the way up to Major League Baseball.
And now his baseball journey is taking him halfway around the world, to the Tokyo Olympics.
Valencia, 36, will play for Team Israel when the Olympics begin next month in Japan.
“I’m a Jewish athlete,” Valencia said last week. “To play under the Israel delegation with a lot of Jewish players and friends of mine — it will definitely be an honor. It will be bittersweet at the same time. Our first game is against the USA. It is nothing but love out there. I have a lot of friends on that team as well.”
Valencia’s friends range from Palm Beach County to Miami-Dade, to all across the country. After his stint as a Miami Hurricane, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 19th round of the 2006 MLB draft.
“UM was a very important part of my life,” Valencia said. “It was my first time playing super competitive baseball with players that I felt were better than me. It made me mentally tougher, and it made me physically tougher.”
Valencia played in the MLB for eight years for several teams before joining Team Israel in 2019.
“Playing Major League Baseball, being around some of the greatest of all time, some of the best players in the game today, you learn a lot,” Valencia said. “You incorporate things in their game into yours. You’re constantly growing as a player, which helps you as you play long enough. Now I’m kind of bestowing that information that I got with the younger guys on our team, taking more of a mentorship role.”
With the Olympics being postponed a year during the coronavirus pandemic, it was important for Valencia to stay ready. He trains at FTX Wellness and Performance in Boca Raton every Monday and Friday.
“My biggest fear is not feeling prepared out there,” Valencia said. “If I feel like I’ve put the prep and work in, I can live and die with the results that I get. It was important for me to stay prepared and ready because at the end of the day, you have pride on the line and you want to show well to the entire world. A lot of people are going to be watching, so there is a lot of pride that comes with the preparation of everything.”
There are still some concerns with traveling to Tokyo, in light of the COVID-19 rates there.
“Everybody’s got a little bit of anxiety,” Valencia said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have my own. Just being away from your family for 45 days on the other side of the world. Leaving behind my kid and my wife, who is pregnant.”
Being able to play baseball in the Olympics is something that Valencia never imagined.
“It’s kind of like the icing on the cake of a long baseball career coming to a close,” Valencia said.
After the Olympics, Valencia hopes to continue to be around the sport of baseball.
“Working for a Major League organization, preferably in South Florida,” Valencia. “The Marlins would be really cool. The hometown team that I rooted for growing up. Staying in the game that I know and love would be a cool job.”