Valenzuela brings the right stuff
By all appearances, Tanner Valenzuela’s pitching delivery to home plate is effortless. What sets the Douglas High School senior left-hander apart from other pitchers, however, is how he tucks his fielder’s glove underneath his right shoulder and then slips his left hand back into the glove as part of his follow-through.
Valenzuela, you see, has overcome the challenge of a lifelong condition that left him without use of his right hand to emerge as an 18-year-old pitcher who has shown he has the right stuff.
And he’s done it with a great deal of heart and determination. An inspiration to others? No doubt. Yet, Valenzuela is quick to downplay his own accomplishments.
“All I can do is set a good example,” he said. “Basically, I just want to give the younger kids a goal to get to where they want to be. That’s ultimately to get to the next level, but just right now, give all you have.”
Right now, nothing is more important than giving his best effort to help the Douglas Tigers win games this spring. Just ask him what his role on a pitching staff that is expected to be led by Isaiah Schat, who received honorable mention recognition last year.
“That’s a good question right now because I can start, I can relieve, I can close,” he said. “Wherever they need me, I’ll be there. I don’t have a preference. Just put me on the mound where I do my business and I’ll give 100 percent.”
Valenzuela has always done just that despite complications from what was diagnosed as a stroke during his own delivery into this world. Medical treatment enabled him to gain muscle coordination on his right side — except for his right hand.
It’s much like the story of Jim Abbott to overcome his birth without a right hand and go on to pitch Major League baseball from 1989-99.
“Jim Abbott is one of my inspirations, and everyone else who is in the same situation I am, whether it’s their arm or leg,” Valenzuela said. “It drives me to work harder to be the best I can.”
The 5-foot-8, 140-pound Valenzuela, who also served as manager for the Douglas football team last fall, had a very respectable junior season in 2015 as he came out of the bullpen to earn two saves for the Tigers. He followed that up with success for the Reno Muckdogs during a summer season in which he compiled a 2-0 record with one save and 2.69 earned run average in 13 appearances. He allowed 29 hits with seven walks and 23 strikeouts in 28.2 innings.
Though not overpowering, Valenzuela has increased his fastball from 70 to 80 mph since his freshman year. He has also increased his mound repertoire.
“I throw a lot,” he said with a big smile. “I can throw a fastball, curveball, circle change, split change, knuckleball … on a good day … and many more. You show me a grip and I can probably throw it.”