He’s remembered as one of Rhode Island’s all-time best and most popular baseball coaches. That’s why the baseball fields and surrounding areas inside Providence’s Roger Williams Park will be jam-packed this Saturday when people from all corners of the state gather to celebrate the remarkable life of Valentino “Coach Val” Innocente.
Why the Little League fields?
That’s the size baseball diamond that “Coach Val” – who passed away back on March 17, 2011 – began coaching on nearly a half century ago.
“Val’s life was about relationships and people,” said Lori Mello, who along with her mother and father, Dolores and Bob Mello, were Coach Val’s best friends and are also chairing the Sept. 22 tribute. “It was about friendships and encouraging others to play hard and live large. It was about always teaching and preaching or as we call it, here comes a Val speech.”
Innocente began his coaching career by winning five state championships for the St. Ann’s CYO baseball team. His career included three state championships in American Legion Baseball and four state titles at Bishop Hendricken.
After his successes at Hendricken, he went to Roger Williams and coached the Hawks to the first Commonwealth Conference Championship in the university’s baseball history. He was also selected to coach the Czech Republic Olympic Baseball Team.
“Quite a fascinating life,” Mello said.
The memorial will run from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. It will begin with a youth baseball game.
The event will also serve as a fundraiser.
“We all want Coach Val’s name to live forever,” Mello said. “All proceeds will go to inner city youth programs that were close to Coach Val’s heart. There’s the Corliss Park Project, Wanskuck Little League and Camp Davis, just to name a few. He touched many, many lives throughout those organizations.”
The all-volunteer committee that has planned Saturday’s event is hoping to raise enough money to purchase a scoreboard with Coach Val’s picture and have it installed at Corliss Park. The group is also hoping to send inner-city youth to a PawSox game and get neighborhood kids involved in sports.
Mello’s group has extended an open invitation to Rhode Island’s entire baseball community, as well as people who were involved – or still are – in the Wanskuck Little League, the Wanskuck Boys and Girls Club, Providence Recreation Department, Mount Pleasant High School (Class of 1953), Almacs Supermarkets and Rhode Island State General Treasurer’s office to come to Saturday’s event. In addition to the tribute, a wide variety of food will be available, along with special hats and T-shirts. The group also has pictures of teams coached by Innocente.
Anyone who’d like to make a donation to the Coach Val Foundation should view the non-profit group’s website at www.coachval9.com.