Matt Valin’s baseball quest has stretched into this summer with his dream of playing the game and taking him north of the border into Canada.
After another dominant season at SUNY Cortland, the 22-year-old left-handed pitcher has taken another step in his career. He signed a pro contract July 17 with the Ottawa Champions of the independent Can-Am League.
“I was extremely excited,” Valin said. “Especially with Ottawa being about two hours from my home, so that’s really nice.”
Valin has excelled at every level he’s pitched at, from his high school playing days in his native LaFargeville, to Onondaga Community College, to helping guide Cortland back to yet another Division III World Series.
“It’s a really good league, it’s a really a competitive league,” Valin said. “The hitters are definitely better than anything I’ve faced before.”
Valin played for the Watertown Rapids of the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League last summer and is the first Rapids’ player to sign with a pro team.
He was proactive after his college season this year in seeking out an opportunity to pitch at the next level.
“I sent out emails to a bunch of front-office people in different independent baseball teams,” Valin said.
After a tip from a coach, he posted his profile on a Facebook group called Meet a Prospect, and included a video of himself pitching,
Later that same night, Valin received a response from Champions hitting coach Jared Lemieux and a tryout was arranged in Ottawa.
“He saw me on there and messaged me and I came out for a tryout on July 4th,” Valin said. “Everything moves very fast here.”
After he made the team and signed a one-year contract, Valin had to navigate through some paperwork, including signing a work visa in order to play for the Canadian team.
Valin already had an enhanced New York state drivers license, but knew he probably needed a U.S. passport to complete the papers and finalize the contract.
With time of the essence, Valin drove some 180 miles from LaFargeville to St. Albans, Vt., where a passport could be obtained in 24 hours.
“It’s actually kind of a funny story,” Valin said. “I had to drive to Vermont at like 6 o’clock on Monday night to go get a passport the next morning. The place there does same-day passports. The place in Watertown said it was going to be at least three weeks, so obviously I didn’t want to wait and miss my chance.”
After attaining the passport and spending the night in Vermont, he drove back to Ottawa the next day.
“I stayed overnight in Vermont, the next morning at 8 a.m. was my appointment,” he said. “And after I got my passport, I drove straight to Ottawa and joined them for the game that night. Just to stand in the dugout, I wasn’t activated until Wednesday, the day after. It was a stressful couple days.”
Valin made his debut with the Champions on July 17 in Ottawa and through Saturday, he has made three relief appearances.
“It was nerve-wracking at first, because I’ve never pitched really before in front of this many people before. It’s definitely a little different.”
In his first outing with the team he allowed one earned run on a hit in two-thirds innings of work. Since then, he pitched a pair of scoreless appearances, most recently one inning in Saturday’s home game against Sussex County.
He has posted a 3.85 earned-run average in 2 1/3 innings, striking out one while allowing two hits and four walks.
Valin has been relying on his fastball and his slider, pitches which have gotten him to where he is now.
“I throw a fastball, slider and I’m starting to play with a changeup,” Valin said. “It’s coming along pretty nice, actually.”
The Champions play in RCGT Park, a ballpark which has a history in the pro game which dates back to the early 1990s.
“It’s really nice,” Valin said. “They used to be Triple-A for the Expos, and I believe Double-A for the Twins after that. The stadium itself is really nice, it’s one of the nicer leagues from what I hear.
“They get a decent amount of fans, from about 1,500 to 2,000, at least.”
In his senior season at SUNY Cortland, Valin orchestrated a banner campaign, faring 9-0, leading the team to the SUNYAC title and then to the program’s 27th consecutive College World Series.
“It was a good year down in college, for sure,” Valin said. “They’re known as a D3 powerhouse, and every year we’re always competing for a national championship in the postseason. We always have a solid team there.”
Valin tied the Cortland single-game record with 17 strikeouts in a 10-inning, 1-0 win over SUNY Fredonia during the league tournament.
“That was fun to be a part of, 10 innings,” Valin said. “I was going to try and go out for the 11th if we had one, but didn’t. I did not want to come out of that game for anything.”
In the Division III World Series, Valin won the Red Dragons’ opening-game win over Alverina in a regional, and the team then defeated Tufts twice to advance. Cortland was ousted after a pair of losses to Babson in super-regional play.
“It was good, there were a couple rough spots,” Valin said of his senior season. “But for the most part, once conference (play) started I really found my groove.”
Valin, who finished with a 10-0 record in two seasons at Cortland, this year was selected as a D3baseball.com first-team All-American and an American Baseball Coaches Association third-team Division III All-American.
He was also named the New York Region Pitcher of the Year by both organizations and was the SUNYAC’s Co-Pitcher of the Year.
Valin plans to complete his studies in physical education at SUNY Cortland as a student teacher at Indian River this fall.
Last year with the Rapids, Valin went 2-0 over five starts, recording a 2.86 ERA while striking out 28 and walking 15 in 22 innings.
Valin was inspired somewhat to seek out playing professional baseball by David Anderson, who was the Rapids’ first head coach in the team’s 2018 inaugural season.
“I talked to coach Anderson about it a little bit,” Valin said. “I was actually almost going down to play for his team down in the Coastal Plain League that he’s coaching — the Fayetteville SwampDogs in North Carolina. So if I didn’t get this opportunity, I think was going to go down just to get some innings and get some more video of myself pitching.”
“Matt has the tools to excel at the next level and is absolutely deserving of this opportunity,” Anderson said. “The Can-Am League is a great forum for him to showcase his ability against top talent.”
SUNY Cortland head coach Joe Brown also helped set Valin up for a tryout in June with the Gary (Ind.) team.
Valin also likes Ottawa’s proximity to the north country as family and friends have been able to attend games, as his parents were there for his first game, and planned to be at Saturday night’s game.
Valin, who had never been to Ottawa before, currently lives across the Ottawa River with several teammates in Gatineau, Quebec, which is about a 15-minute drive from the ballpark in Ontario.
“It’s a little different over there because everybody speaks French and I don’t know very much French,” Valin said. “So the language barrier is a little difficult, but most of the people speak English.”
Valin hopes for more opportunities for himself, perhaps at a higher level in pro ball.
“It’s an awesome opportunity, because if I go out there and do well in this league, all it takes is one person to see you,” Valin said. “There’s scouts that come to games occasionally, so like if I do well on one of those nights, you never know what can happen.”