He might stand only 5 foot 5, but size has never been a deterrent to Hudson Catholic sophomore Valentino “Tino” Salgado.
That will be the last time he’s called by his real first name. He prefers to be known simply as Tino.
“It’s motivation for me,” Salgado said. “I want to set an example for younger kids that you don’t have to be 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3 to play baseball. If I can be like any other player and set an example, then that’s fine with me. It’s not about size. It’s about your determination and dedication to the game.”
Salgado has always been dedicated to baseball, since he was a youngster playing in the Pershing Field Little League or in travel ball with the Jersey City Diamond Dawgs.
“I’ve always tried to give my team a spark with what I do,” Salgado said. “I just want to prove everybody wrong.”
When Salgado entered Hudson Catholic last year, he didn’t have any hopes or aspirations of playing varsity baseball right away.
“I just worked my hardest to make it happen,” Salgado said.
Hudson Catholic head coach Alberto Vasquez had an idea that Salgado could play.
“I saw him play as an eighth grader,” Vasquez said. “I saw what he had to offer. He had a lot of pop in his bat, a lot of power for someone his size. I could see he was strong with that powerful swing. Just the way he approached everything, I could tell he was a pure ballplayer. He was fun to watch.”
So when Salgado signed up for the baseball team at his new school, there was no stopping at the freshman or junior varsity level.
“He’s a nice little player,” Vasquez said. “He was a heads-up player. I didn’t care he was a little guy. I knew he could play. He could lead off for us and play second base.”
Salgado had a break through freshman season, hitting .380.
When it came time to assemble the team for the 2017 season, Vasquez knew that he had a staple, someone he could rely upon, in Salgado.
“Even though he’s only a sophomore, I rely on him tremendously as a leader,” Vasquez said. “We have a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, so I would say he leads us. I really could put him anywhere from 1 to 4 in the lineup, but he’s our leadoff guy. He knew that we lost a lot to graduation and wanted to step up.”
For Salgado, it was natural taking over.
“I’ve always been the captain on every team I’ve played for,” Salgado said. “Coming into this year, I was more comfortable. I knew what I had to do. I approached everything differently. I had more confidence. I realized that we didn’t have a lot of seniors. I just came out and tried to set an example by pulling the rest of the team up.”
Salgado began his sophomore year as the Hawks’ leadoff hitter and second baseman once again. He had a year’s experience under his belt. He was ready.
“I always thought that if I hit the ball well, it would set off a chain reaction behind me,” Salgado said. “I was able to set everything else up.”
That was never more evident than in the Hawks’ games in the past week.
Over the past week, Salgado has collected seven hits in his last nine at-bats. He had five runs scored and three RBI.
For the season, Salgado is hitting an even .500 with 17 hits in 34 at-bats. He has hit two home runs, added five doubles, scored 12 runs and added six RBI.
For his efforts, Salgado has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
The young Hawks have been the biggest surprise of the baseball season, posting an 8-3 record thus far.
While some people might be startled by the little man’s explosion, there’s one person who isn’t shocked at all.
“I’m not at all surprised,” Vasquez said. “I knew he could hit the ball. He’s one of those rare kids who really loves the game of baseball. He watches every game. He does things on his own. He loves the game and plays the game hard.”
Salgado is also a devout Roman Catholic.
“I know that God is going to give me the right opportunity to play,” Salgado said. “I pray all the time.”
Tino gives a lot of credit to his progress as a player to his father, John, who was a former player growing up and served as one of Tino’s coaches at a younger age.
“Ever since I was little, my Dad taught me everything about baseball,” Tino Salgado said of his father. “He brought me to practices and showed me the right way to play. He always supported me and always complimented me when I did something right. He helped me improve more than anyone. He still is coaching me today.”
Salgado said that he spends a lot of time involved in physical training.
“I spend an hour doing agility drills and an hour in the weight room every day,” Salgado said. “I want to get bigger and stronger. I don’t look at it as if I have to hit for power. But I want to be big enough and strong enough to use the right force. I don’t worry about the size. I just let my game speak for itself.”
Vasquez, who played NCAA Division I baseball at Rutgers during his heyday, believes that someone will give Salgado a shot down the road.
“I think someone will take him,” Vasquez said. “He’s a high energy kid who loves the game. He’s always ready for the next game, the next play. He’s always excited to play. Sometimes, I have to tell him to relax a little, because it’s only the second inning. He’s always jumping around, trying to do something.”
Salgado, who is also a good student, dreams of playing college baseball someday. He hopes that a college scout overlooks the lack of size and just recognizes the heart of a lion inside the miniscule player.
“I couldn’t ask for a better fit right now,” Salgado said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team. We’re like one big family. We’re all on the same track and have love for each other. I couldn’t ask for a better place to play.” – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com