UPIKE family and friends remember Pike County crash victim

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PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WYMT) - Life has a way of throwing us curve balls.

For Joe Valentino, his curveball was picking up everything and moving from one side of the county to another. A California boy turned University of Pikeville baseball player, Valentino turned the curveball he was given, and turned it into a lot of strikes.

"He pitched in some big games and won some big games as well," said UPIKE Baseball Head Coach Jim Pitt. "He was vital, absolutely."

Pitt was only an assistant coach back when he helped recruit Joe back in 2012.

"You're not quite sure if they're going to make that leap of faith and come this far," Pitt added.

It is not always easy trying to get someone to move, let alone move from California all the way to Kentucky, and he was a pitcher they hoped would help turn the program around. 2012-13 was a crucial year for building up UPIKE's team. They watched their hopes play out on the field as Valentino played in many of their big games.

Joe Valentino on the field was not the same Joe Valentino off the field as any of his teammates can attest to.

"He was tough, he was a competitor," said Jake Sokoll, a good friend and former teammate. "I mean he never wanted to come off the mound."

But the tough, aggressive athlete on the field somewhat disappeared when the game was over.

"Joe was an amazing guy with kids, he actually babysitted our head coaches children," Pitt said.

Eventually, Joe stopped babysitting and started a family of his own with his wife Haley, they tied the knot and had their daughter, Mia. She's now two-years-old.

"In the hard situations he was always like 'I wanna stick this out' and I think that speaks volumes about his character," said Sokoll.

Both Joe and Haley were graduates of UPIKE, each getting their bachelor's degree. Haley went back as an assistant volleyball coach for UPIKE and Joe started his first year of nursing school this year.

Joe's passion for baseball never died out after he was done playing at UPIKE, he continued to teach dozens, if not hundreds of kids the sport.

He also continued out to grow within his own church, as his pastor John Lucas recalls, he was the "life of the group." Lucas says Joe is a role model to many in his church family at First Baptist Pikeville.

"He's been described accurately as one of the best dad's any guy could model himself after, he just poured himself into his little girl," Lucas added.

By now you can see how Joe Valentino went from a California kid to an Eastern Kentucky man. He settled in Pikeville and called it home.

That's why his loss hit this town so hard. Joe was killed in a crash Wednesday evening in Pike County at only 27-years-old.

"It's just sad that he didn't live it out and that's the hardest part," said Pitt, thinking about the future Joe had. "Have peace, you know where he's at."

Pitt is sure Joe is looking down on everyone right now, everyone he knows is thinking that too.

"You know I've received a lot of phone calls and texts from old teammates, guys, you know a loss brings people together and I think that's what Joe wanted," added Sokoll.

Just a couple months ago, his friends tell me Joe was saved when he was baptized in the church.

"It was one of those life changes that everyone here remembers and that's what makes this so difficult," Lucas said thinking about the day Joe was baptized.

It will take a long time for healing to make a mark in the broken hearts of those who loved him, but UPIKE and Pikeville are known for its ability to come together as a family during hard times.

"Haley, Mia, we love you, this community loves you and we're going to continue to support you," said Sokoll, looking into the camera lens during his interview.

A candlelight vigil was held on UPIKE's campus Thursday night to honor Valentino.

Funeral arrangements are not known yet.

A viewing for Valentino will take place Tuesday, December 11th from 6-9 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Pikeville. The funeral takes places Wednesday, December 12th at 2 p.m.

The family asks people to wear a baseball jersey or shirt because of how much Valentino loved the sport.

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