Named for Ted Williams, he's nostalgic about baseball

Named for Ted Williams, he's nostalgic about baseball

Woonsocket resident Ted Williams Francis Valin stands next to a picture of legendary Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams, the man he was named after, shown with teammates Dom and Vince DiMaggio, that hangs on the wall of the Harmony Cafe in Manville. (Valley Breeze photo by Meghan Kavanaugh)

WOONSOCKET - It was 1946 on a sweltering July 4 when a 4-year-old Theodore Valin first stepped foot inside Fenway Park.

Tickets were just $4, he remembered while sipping a beer at the Harmony Cafe in Lincoln, and the men sat through the mid-summer double-header in their full wool suits and fedoras.

His father, Lucien Valin, wanted to leave after the first bout with the Philadelphia Athletics, but Valin insisted they stay. For his idol, his namesake, the great Ted Williams was on the field.

The son of textile mill and rubber factory workers, Valin was born Theodore "Ted" Williams Francis Valin in 1942.

While both his parents were on board with naming their only son after the legendary Red Sox leftfielder, it was Valin's mother, Pearl, who insisted on Francis, for St. Francis of Assisi, as her son needed a Roman Catholic name, Valin explained.

He has since become an expert on the ball player, who he said was also known to be a great freshwater and saltwater fisherman.

That is, of course, when he wasn't being the two-time American League MVP and six-time batting champion who spent his entire 19-year career playing for the Boston Red Sox before being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966.

Valin said he started learning about Williams "as soon as I could learn to read."

"I loved baseball and I also loved hockey," he said, and playing pick-up and league games in sandlots and on frozen ponds around Woonsocket and Cumberland, where his family later moved.

In baseball, he played shortstop, and second and third base. In hockey, he was a goalie - in the years before players wore facemasks, he pointed out, counting the small scars on his face.

He earned a scholarship for both sports to Colorado College, where he earned a master's degree in mathematics with a minor in meteorology.

After he "spent my time with Uncle Sam in southeast Asia," Valin taught math and science at a high school in New Jersey, where he also coached baseball and wrestling.

He then made his way back to New England, working in the engineering department at the old Crosby Valve Inc. in Wrentham, Mass. for 30 years before leaving when superiors looking for just one employee gave him the choice between himself and a father of four young children.

At age 59, Valin left.

"I think I did the right thing," he said, adding that he still keeps in touch with the family.

Integrity seems to be one with the Ted Williams name, something Valin said he is proud to carry.

Just one year before he was born, Williams had a .39955 batting average that was to have been rounded up to .400 at the end of the week.

Williams was told to sit out his next game, Valin said, but he refused and ended up hitting his way to a .406.

"He strived to be the best hitter that ever lived," Valin said. "He was obsessed with hitting a baseball."

Most of the baseball stars today just cannot measure up, he said, asking, "How much of that is drug-enhanced?"

Williams hit 521 career home runs, Valin said, "and lost more than four years of his career in World War II and Korea," serving as a fighter jet pilot alongside wingman John Glenn, who went on to become the famed astronaut who was the first American to orbit Earth.

Valin was at the game on Sept. 28, 1960, when Williams hit his last home run, and when he broke his elbow on the left field wall during the all-star game.

But he never got to meet him in person.

"I wanted him to teach me how to fly fish, but I never got the chance," he said.

Valin does, however, have an autographed lithograph of Williams hanging in his living room made from one of the carvings for the Hall of Fame.

Valin said much has changed since Williams, the first player to receive a salary of $100,000, hung up his cleats.

According to MLB.com, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw just inked an average annual salary of $30.7 million, the largest in baseball history.

The first time Valin went to Fenway in recent years, he said, he quickly realized a $20 bill was not enough to pay for two beers, two hotdogs and two pretzels.

"They've out-priced the average fan," Valin said.

So while Red Sox fans get ready for Fenway's opening day on April 4, Valin said he will be watching from his Woonsocket home.

"Now you can watch it on television, on a big-screen TV with replays," he said. "It's a much more enjoyable experience."

But while the baseball experience changes, Valin's respect for the Hall of Famer who shares his name is as strong as ever.

"It's been an honor," he said. "That's all it is."