Jordany Valdespin returned home to the Dominican Republic in August of 2013 wishing to forget.
At his lowest, he wanted to quit, give up baseball for good.
Valdespin’s summer with the New York Mets had been a personal catastrophe. He became so outraged when the Mets demoted him to the minors in July that he vented his ire on manager Terry Collins in an expletive-filled verbal confrontation.
In August, after his name turned up in the Biogenesis scandal that brought down Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez, he was slapped with a 50-game suspension that caused him to rethink his baseball future.
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He told his mother he was done.
“I said, ‘Mom, I don’t want to play anymore,’” Valdespin said. “I was so frustrated at the time. I was at home [in the Dominican], watching my friends play on TV, and I couldn’t play.”
But Valdespin’s mother would hear nothing of his quitting.
“She told me, ‘Don’t say that. From this point on, you have to grow up,’” Valdespin said. “That’s why your mom is your only real love in your life. She told me to grow up.”
And Valdespin, 27, says he has.
Sitting in front of his locker inside the Marlins’ clubhouse on Friday, he spoke of how he is not the same person, the same polarizing player Mets general manager Sandy Alderson once said: “I’m not telling you he’s the most popular guy in the clubhouse. That would be misleading.”
Given a second chance with the Marlins, Valdespin has done nothing to upset his teammates or anyone else in the organization. On the field, he’s having one of the best springs of any player on the team.
Going into Friday’s game against the Braves, he led the team with nine hits and a .375 average. He has a chance to make the club as a fifth outfielder, one who can also play a little infield in a pinch.
“He’s come in hungry, trying to earn a spot in a crowded outfield,” Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. “He’s played hard and run the bases hard. He’s been impressive.”
Said Valdespin of the Marlins: “They showed they believed in me.”
Valdespin said after his mother talked him out of quitting that he played winter ball in the Dominican, where he caught the eye of Marlins scout Benny Latino. But Latino, according to Valdespin, told him he had to straighten up his act if the Marlins were ever going to take a chance on him.
That meant no more showboating after his home runs, a habit that cost him favor with his Mets teammates.
No more testy rants with the managers and coaches.
No more immature acts, like the time he posted an online photo of himself wearing a Miami Marlins cap — while still a member of the Mets.
“He believed in me,” Valdespin said of Latino. “He give me the chance, and I promised him I was going to play hard every day. When you have people believe in you, you have to do better, you have to make adjustments in your life.”
The Marlins signed Valdespin to a minor-league deal last season, eventually promoting him to their major-league roster in July. Valdespin was used primarily off the bench as a pinch-hitter, but he also played in the outfield and second base. He hit only .214 with three homers in limited time.
But the Marlins believe he has the potential to be more productive.
Valdespin said this much is certain: He’s a new person.
“We are human. We make mistakes,” he said of his past. “But people have to grow up.”
The past, he said, is now behind him.
“That’s over for me,” Valdespin said. “I’ve turned the page. I don’t want to remember what happened before.”
After going hitless for five innings, the Marlins scored three runs in the sixth en route to a 5-1 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Friday night.
Martin Prado drove in two runs with a double while Dan Haren turned in five sharp innings, holding the Braves to one run on four hits.
After going 12 innings this spring without issuing a walk, Haren walked Freddie Freeman to start the fourth, and the Braves capitalized by scoring their only run on a Chris Johnson RBI single.
Braves starter Wandy Rodriguez held the Marlins hitless for five innings before the Atlanta bullpen took over, and Christian Yelich ended the drought with a single.