A PROMISE FULFULLED

Framber Valdez stayed true to his pledge to build a church in his hometown

By Jerry Crasnick

Long before Framber Valdez began focusing on building arm strength and a pitch arsenal, he was obsessed with . . . well . . . building. His mother sold empanadas and juices at her coffee shop and his father ran a construction business in the town of Sabana Grande de Palenque in the Dominican Republic, and young Framber developed a fascination with houses and all the work and foresight that went into creating them from scratch.

 

He also embraced his Christian faith, and at age 14 he began attending a local church where the motto was “Camino al Cielo’’ (or “Pathway to Heaven”). The church was made of wood, with torn music sheets, ripped chairs and a dirt floor that was moldy from water damage. Amid the squalor, he promised his friend and mentor, Pastor Antonio, that he would one day reach the major leagues and give back to the community in a tangible way.

 

“I had always asked God to continue helping and blessing me, and in return I would build a church in Guayacanes for Pastor Antonio,’’ Valdez said in a Spanish-language interview. “Right now, I’m fulfilling this goal. I’m very focused on two things -- my career and building this church.’’

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Valdez, 28, is thriving professionally as a member of the Houston Astros’ starting rotation. He set career highs in 2021 with an 11-6 record, a 3.14 ERA, 22 starts, 134 2/3 innings and 125 strikeouts, and started two games against Atlanta in the World Series. Although he failed to reach the third inning in either outing, he filed away the experience as a future opportunity for growth.


But first things first. Day after day this offseason, Valdez heads to the church site and oversees the buzz of activity as resident construction foreman. With input and counsel from his father, he’s building a 1,500-foot structure with room for about 50 parishioners.

“I don’t get emotional because the community praises me,’’ he said. “I get emotional because it’s me who is doing this. I’m getting to complete a dream very few people have the opportunity to do.’’

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Valdez conceived the plans and is immersed in every detail -- from columns to doors to the windows -- with the goal of completing the church before the New Year. When the final screws have been turned and the last stray nail has been hammered, he will have spent about 2 million pesos of his own money (or roughly $100,000) on the project.

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Valdez’s roots run deep in a tradition-rich community for baseball. Francisco Liriano, Ivan Nova, Franmil Reyes, Juan Uribe and Jose Uribe are among the other big leaguers who grew up in the same area of San Cristobal Province. But Valdez barely gave the big leagues a second thought as a youth, until he watched a few games on TV and suddenly realized that fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez was a role model worth emulating. 


“I was one of those kids that you see on the streets barefoot just bopping around -- looking for chickens, throwing rocks and breaking things,’’ Valdez said. “Just exploring. I didn’t have time, nor did I even think about watching TV. My mom watched her soap operas and my dad would watch TV sometimes, but not me. I was always out in the parks and just playing ball casually.’’

 

While most Dominican players sign their first professional contracts as teenagers, Valdez got a late start because of health issues and indifference from scouts. He was 21 years old when the Astros spotted him at a workout in Guayacanes and signed him for a reported $10,000 bonus. 

Valdez relies on a sinking fastball, an upper 70s curveball and the occasional changeup from the left side. Trivia buffs gained additional insight into his resourcefulness in a 2019 profile in The Athletic, which revealed that he’s ambidextrous and capable of throwing about 85 mph right-handed.


Now that Valdez is taking notes on the competition, he has gravitated to the Cubs’ Marcus Stroman as his favorite big-league player (non-teammate division) because of Stroman’s energy and confident approach on the mound. In the Houston clubhouse, Valdez listens to salsa and merengue music on his headphones and dances with his teammates to keep them engaged. The more attentive among them can see how much he sweats the details.

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 “His workout routine between starts rivals anyone else I’ve ever seen or played with,’’ said Astros catcher Jason Castro. “Being a new pitcher and being newly exposed to being stretched out deep into the calendar year, his preparation allowed him to stay strong all year.’’


For all the comfort his signature project will bring to Pastor Antonio’s flock, Valdez sees the church as yet another life lesson he can share with his three sons, Nicolas, age 8; Franmy, 2; and Frayker, 1. Years from now, the church in Guayacanes will be a living monument to their father’s selflessness.

“People do this for profit and for business,’’ Valdez said. “I only ask God for good health and blessings for me and my family. I haven’t made a deal with God, ‘If I build you this church, you give me this,’ because I don’t like that. I don’t like feeling like this is a business deal. I’m doing this because I made a promise.’’