Frank Valentino isn’t one to tell himself there’s something he can’t do.
The West Islip graduate grew up as a self-described “die-hard” Mets fan. And on Sunday, the 24-year-old hard-throwing righthander took a step toward potentially wearing the uniform of the team he spent his childhood idolizing.
Valentino, a 2017 New York Tech graduate, signed a minor-league contract with the Mets last week. He made his debut with the Class-A Brooklyn Cyclones Sunday at MCU Park.
“I never ruled it out,” Valentino said. “I always gave myself that chance and that belief. And I was just blessed to get picked up here out of anywhere else.”
Despite the Cyclones falling to Lowell, 6-4, Valentino was near his best. The 6-3 hurler allowed three runs (none earned) on seven hits with no walks and five strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings, leaving to rousing applause from a crowd featuring plenty of family and friends.
“I was comfortable out here,” Valentino said. “And hearing a lot of familiar voices with family and friends, it was awesome. And it just kept me in my zone.”
“That guy was right on, that was just a great outing for him,” Cyclones manager Edgardo Alfonzo said. “Hopefully he’ll come back and do the same thing.”
There was no shortage of support for Valentino. His parents Anthony and Lisa, brothers Anthony and Joe, grandmother, extended family, friends and coaches made the game. His college teammates from New York Tech sat right behind the plate, loudly cheering their former pitcher from his first warmup toss — which Valentino admitted was impossible to ignore.
“Just to see him out there, it makes me so proud because I’ve looked up to him my whole life,” said 19-year-old Joe Valentino. “He’s just a huge role model because he always does things the right way.”
Valentino’s father said when he got a call from his son last week, his first thought wasn’t concerning baseball.
“He called me at work on Wednesday and I thought he was going to tell me there’s something wrong with the car,” Anthony Valentino said. “And instead, he told me he was [signed] by the Mets.”
Valentino followed Justin Wilson, who was doing a rehab stint for the Mets. Wilson, a lefthanded reliever who signed a two-year, $10 million contract in January, has been out since May 11 with an elbow injury.
Valentino spent the last year-and-a-half pitching in international leagues. He had a 2.10 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 49 strikeouts with 16 walks over 51 1/3 innings in eight starts this year for Florence Freedom of the Frontier League. Now, he’s back in his home state and in the Mets organization.
“I don’t even know if I’ve really comprehended it all yet,” Valentino said. “It’s surreal, it’s an honor. . . . to be here in New York — at home — means the world.”