An interview with Bobby Valentine can go in dozens of directions. Former high school sports star and dance champion. Major league baseball player and manager. Restauranteur.
Those are just surface material on the resume.
And sometimes Valentine will take you on paths never anticipated. Few people have a broader range of interests and more curiosity about the unknown.
During a recent late-summer day in his office at the Pitt Center on the campus of Sacred Heart University, the Stamford native discussed his newest job, as the school’s athletic director, a prime example of the way Valentine chases down new challenges.
Another, and much lesser known position, is Valentine’s role as executive producer of Makuhari Media, a collaborative effort putting out an eclectic mix of documentaries. The first release, “Ballplayer: Pelotero,” was the well-received story of two Dominican baseball players trying to navigate the bumpy road toward their Major League dreams.
Next up, later this month, is “Branca’s Pitch,” which is close to Valentine’s heart. The subject is his father-in-law, Ralph Branca, the former Brooklyn Dodger star whose multi-faceted life has been overshadowed by giving up “The Shot Heard Round the World,” the game-winning home run to the Giants’ Bobby Thomson, that clinched the 1951 National League pennant.
The film was the starting point as The Ruden Report went 7 Questions with Bobby Valentine.
The Ruden Report: What was it like putting together a documentary on your father-in-law?
Bobby Valentine: What happened was he decided to do a book and as he was running around with this author we had a film crew with him. So we made the documentary about the making of the book. It was really cool. It was really cool. He’s an amazing guy. Being the last living member of the ’47 Dodgers, living a life of stardom, being the youngest guy on that team at the time, winning 21 games when he was 21, marrying the owner’s daughter, being a real successful businessman in the insurance industry, and living with the one pitch he threw on Oct. 3, 1951. It’s an amazing story, his life.
TRR: Did you learn anything about him you didn’t previously know?
BV: Yeah, we found out his mother was Jewish. We never knew that. He didn’t know it until we did the book. She was a refugee from Hungary. At like 16 she was smuggled out of the country and put on a boat, came here, met her husband-to-be. He was an Italian-Catholic guy, married her immediately, she started having children. Ralph was the 13th of 17 kids. He grew up Catholic. He also found out the house that he lived in, in Mount Vernon, was also lived in by Ken Singleton, so it’s probably the only house in (the region) that was lived in by two major leaguers.
TRR: Does he get tired of talking about the pitch?
BV: Yeah, sure. He was so much more. It was seconds of an 87-year life. But an intelligent guy, someone who understood and embraced the racial situation as no one else did.
TRR: Are you enjoying what you have been doing with the production company and making documentaries? You seem to be very hands on.
BV: Well, I’m not so hands on, I have great people in the film industry making the films, setting up all the interviews, editing it, putting it together. It’s basically my financing and my friends’ financing that made me executive producer. And then I help trying to sell the movie.
TRR: It has now been a few months at Sacred Heart. Are you enjoying being an athletic director?
BV: It’s great. A lot of good people, a lot of great coaches. Both our basketball teams played some international games. The men up in Montreal and the women in Ireland, so I have been following them on the Internet. Our women’s volleyball team looks great and our football team just got started. It’s a hodgepodge of a lot of things. A lot of good administrators who have been here many years and know the lay of the land. I’m the newcomer but we’re getting a lot done. We’ve hired new coaches, worked on the organizational structure, working on the communications budgets and possible facilities’ expansion.
TRR: Has there been a big learning curve for you with school administration? Do any of your skills as a baseball manager transfer over?
BV: Just my skills as a person are what’s transferred. You live life, and jobs are all about people. I don’t know if any of the signs I gave as a third base coach have anything to do with what I’m doing now. I’ve owned businesses and I’ve run businesses, I’ve worked businesses, I’ve managed baseball teams. I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff and this is similar but a different rulebook.
TRR: Are there any new challenges down the road? You always seem to be doing something different.
BV: Doing everything I can do. The great thing is John Petillo, the president here, has allowed me to do that. That was part of the agreement. That I could continue to do anything and everything that I had been doing or might want to do. I think it only enhances the brand. My name gets out there doing stuff. Helping people as much as I can. Helping people I work for and work with as much as I can.