Enmanuel Valdez reflects on his first stint with the Red Sox, his childhood team

Red Sox

“Even thinking about it now gives me goosebumps.”

Enmanuel Valdez used to imagine himself wearing a Red Sox jersey. This year, he finally got to. Chris Coduto/Getty Images

A young Enmanuel Valdez pictured himself stepping inside the batters’ box of Fenway Park all the time. He always wondered what it would be like to do so in real life, and he could only imagine the rush of euphoria that would fill his body just by being on that diamond.

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That scenario was one of his favorites to recreate in his head. When he was a kid growing up in the Dominican Republic, Valdez would frequently fantasize about playing baseball for the Boston Red Sox, the team that made avid fans out of his father, grandfather, and eventually himself. The very thought of wearing the same jersey that his idols David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez wore was enough to keep him engaged with the sport throughout his life. Sure, it was just a dream, one that most people don’t see through. But to Valdez, this was a dream worth chasing.

Valdez stepped into Fenway Park’s batter’s box again on April 19, 2023. Only this time, he didn’t have to imagine it.

Even thinking about it now gives me goosebumps,” Valdez told Boston.com through translator and mental skills coordinator Adan Severino. “It makes me feel good to actually be a part of something and [fulfill] my dream to play for the Red Sox.”

This at-bat had much higher stakes than any of the ones he imagined having as a child. It was the first time he had ever faced a major league pitcher, making it his first impression of the league he had always wanted to join. But fundamentally, this at-bat was no different than the ones he envisioned. He just needed to pay attention and swing at the right pitch.

And he did. He smacked a splitter from Minnesota Twins pitcher Joe Ryan toward the Green Monster. It traveled 106 mph off his bat and sailed past Twins infielder Jose Miranda for a single. Valdez had just recorded the first hit of his major league baseball career, and he did so at the stadium he always dreamed of doing so in.

“That’s a memory that’s going to stick with me,” Valdez said.

He held onto that memory for a few weeks before a greater one came by. On May 1, 2023, Valdez stood at home plate against starter José Berríos of the Toronto Blue Jays with two strikes. At that moment, the Red Sox and Blue Jays had been tied at three runs apiece. Valdez had a runner at first base, and he had just one chance to advance him before striking out.

Valdez had no room for error here. He had to make magic happen with only one swing. And so when Berríos threw him a 95 mph four-seam fastball, he swung as hard as he could and mashed the ball into Fenway Park’s bleachers.

He yelled and pumped his fists in celebration as he rounded the bases. The crowd roared for Valdez’s first major league home run, but they couldn’t be more excited than he was. His childhood dream had fully come true in front of thousands of eyes.

“Truly it’s one of those things where I’ll never forget what those emotions felt like,” Valdez said, “Just to hear my name and get the opportunity to get my first hit, and home run, and everything that I’ve ever dreamed of, but also to be able to help my team, and that’s so important to me to know that I was able to do that in a big area such as Fenway.”

Valdez always had aspirations to help the Red Sox win, but he put those dreams aside as he began his professional career with the Houston Astros, the team he signed with as a teenager. But those feelings re-emerged in August 2022, when he learned that he and outfielder Wilyer Abreu were going to Boston as part of the Christian Vazquez trade.

“After getting an opportunity in Houston, I kind of didn’t think of [helping the Red Sox] as much because I was trying to be where my feet were,” Valdez said. “But then when I got the opportunity to play in Fenway, I was ecstatic.”

He ended that season and began the next one at Triple-A Worcester, where he made a name for himself as one of the best hitters in the Red Sox’ system. He struggled to open 2023, averaging just .180 in 45 plate appearances, but that didn’t stop Boston from giving him his first shot in the big leagues while shortstop Yu Chang recovered from hamate surgery. 

From the moment he arrived at Fenway Park, he asked his new teammates all sorts of questions like a wide-eyed freshman hoping to learn from the more experienced upperclassmen.

“I would seek out and reach people within the clubhouse like, ‘What can I expect? What can I do? How am I going to feel?’ Valdez said. “And the biggest advice they gave me was just, ‘Don’t worry about it too much. Just enjoy the moment, embrace it and you’ll be fine.’”

Valdez took his teammates’ advice and embraced being a major leaguer. For the first time, he was in the same league as the people he watched and learned from as a boy. He even got the chance to meet some of the same people he looked up to, including a staple of his youth: Xander Bogaerts.

Bogaerts was responsible for some of Valdez’s most formative memories as a Red Sox fan. The now-Padre was a rookie during Boston’s World Series run in 2013, a run Valdez watched extensively with his father and grandfather. The three of them bonded over the entire playoffs that year as they all obsessed over the soon-to-be world champions.

“I watched every game,” Valdez said. “I was so into it, so excited about it.”

Valdez grew fond of Bogaerts in particular. Studying Bogaerts’s plate appearances helped him to understand the game more and improve his skills as a baseball player. And almost a decade later, third baseman Rafael Devers would introduce Valdez to his hero over dinner when the Red Sox were in San Diego taking on Bogaerts’s new team, the Padres. But despite being Valdez’s opponent, Bogaerts treated the rookie like a close friend and younger brother that night.

“It was an amazing experience because he was such a nice guy,” said Valdez. “He gave me advice.”

Valdez received advice from many people, from teammates to opponents to coaches. He credits the Red Sox with helping him grow as a baseball player, and he’s grateful for how much love and help they gave him as a rookie. He said that he appreciates how open the Red Sox are as an organization, especially their coaches, and that’s one of the things he remembers most about his first stint with the team.

“Honestly, everything that I’ve learned here has been very helpful due to the coaches because they offer so much compassion, so much help,” Valdez said. “And it’s been great to be a part of a club that is open and willing to offer that advice and help.”

When Valdez returned to Worcester, he got to share what he learned with his teammates, especially Abreu. Valdez has considered Abreu one of his closest friends ever since they were in the Astros’ system together. The two talked a lot about Valdez’s time in the majors and what Abreu should expect when Boston came calling for him.

“Abreu and I had conversations about what the experience was like,” Valdez said, “and I was offering him advice and ideas like, ‘Don’t worry about it too much.’ ‘Don’t stress too much when you do get up there’ so he doesn’t make any errors and feels comfortable.”

Valdez wants to give that same advice to all young baseball players who want to play for their favorite teams one day. In addition, he would tell them to keep a strict focus on improving and working on their game and to never stray from that dream, because it just might come to fruition with enough dedication.

“What’s really important,” Valdez said, “Is to have this ice-cold mindset where you’re just fixated on what you need to do and worry about your goals.”

Despite how simple it sounds, Valdez acknowledges that this advice is much easier said than done. Bad games will happen and things may seem bleak, and at various points, quitting is going to feel very tempting. But Valdez said that’s just a sign to keep improving and not to give into adversity, because analyzing those awful moments is a key method of learning and preparing.

“It’s not easy. It’s never been easy,” Valdez said. “It’s not easy for me, it’s not easy for anyone that’s in there trying to make it. But the important thing is to work hard and work intelligently, to make sure that you are able to make gains so that when you do make it, you’re prepared and you can do what you need to do.”

Valdez said that anyone has the ability to make it to the major leagues, but everyone has to work hard to realize it. He would know. That very mindset is what allowed him to play for the baseball team he grew up loving. Every fan has always wanted to play on their childhood team, Valdez included. But living out this dream has been a much more wonderful experience than he ever imagined it would be as a child pretending to stand in the batters’ box at Fenway Park.

“It’s been extraordinary,” Valdez said. “I can’t even really put it into words.”