Ironically, Rene Valdez came to Sauk Valley Community College as a ballplayer via Arizona. Ironic, because he's put a massive emphasis on injecting local flavor into his roster.
When I chatted with him Monday night and set up our interview for this evening, he seemed disappointed that I didn't want to talk about all of his local players. I explained that feature stories are typically more effective when focused on a player or two. Maybe three.
As I chatted with him at the indoor facility, I gleaned why he wanted to talk about all of his local products. There's a lot of 'em. Just a shade more than 60 percent of his guys graduated from high schools within 100 miles of the facility, 11 of the 28 from institutions right here in the Sauk Valley.
Around the time Valdez arrived, the Skyhawks omitted red from their red-white-and-black color scheme.
Last year, he found some old red uniforms in a closet, and his assistant coach, Noel Aponte, insisted that they restore the red. It began with T-shirt jerseys in the fall. This spring, the red is back in full effect. It's the featured thread in the uniforms, and the belts, hats and shoes are also a fire-engine hue.
Twins Evan and Brady Davis love the new threads. About as much as they love tradition. And that's what the new look is part of: establishing a new tradition. One that expects to win, and do it with talent grown in Sauk Valley soil.
It's a tradition with a long view, as eight of the 11 sophomores have already signed letters of intent to play at 4-year schools after fulfilling their 2 years at Sauk.
While there, they'll read books to children and rake leaves at local churches. They'll hold fundraisers and turn the money raised into more recruiting tools. Valdez didn't let me bolt before he showed what $2,000 can buy: a locker room.
Next on the docket: building a lowered ceiling to complete said space. The stalls are all bright red, 11 of them bearing a nameplate that belongs to a kid from the Sauk Valley.
Smart on multiple levels. There's a lot of talent around here, most notably being churned out by baseball factories like Rock Falls and Morrison. But there's a lot of tangential benefits. More locals means more butts on the bleachers. More interest.
Valdez talked about how a lot of local talent wants to play outside the district after having lived in the Sauk Valley most of – if not all of – their lives. But I guarantee their parents love the thought of them playing nearby. It's more affordable, and friends and family alike get to watch their favorite Skyhawk play ball.
I hope they win more games than they lose this season. But, with a Sauk roster full of products made in the Sauk Valley, it already feels like they've won.
– Email SVM assistant sports editor Christopher Heimerman at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter (@CHeimerman_SVM).