HOUSTON – Even on the day he died, Valentin Jalomo was thinking of the Astros. It was only a couple of hours before he passed away Tuesday afternoon at a Houston hospital that Jalomo’s spirits were lifted when a doctor arranged for Astros star Alex Bregman to send him a get-well video message.
“He got the video and that made him so happy,” said Valerie Jalomo, Valentin’s daughter.
One of the most recognizable faces at Minute Maid Park, with his sombrero and large handlebar mustache that made him a magnet for fans seeking pictures, Jalomo died from complications of pneumonia and COVID-19, his family said. He was 81 years old.
“He was talking and writing up until the last 30 minutes or an hour [before he died],” Valerie Jalomo said. “He was writing me notes. He didn’t want me to leave. He wanted me to be there. He said he lived a good life and he didn’t want nobody to cry for him. He wanted everybody just to pray for him.”
The family said Jalomo became ill around New Year’s Day and tested positive for the coronavirus on Jan. 4. He was hospitalized four days later and never recovered. He’s survived by his wife of 47 years, Carmen, four children and numerous grandchildren.
“He lived in Houston for most of his life,” granddaughter Jazmin Gutierrez said. “He was very proud of where he was from, a little cotton-picking town, Taft, Texas.”
Jalomo’s death brought tributes from all corners of the Astros’ community, with friends posting videos and pictures on social media. Even Astros star Carlos Correa
You will be missed brother. Rest easy 🙏🏽 https://t.co/seqWa9EV4x
— Carlos Correa (@TeamCJCorrea) January 19, 2021
In a text message to MLB.com, Bregman said: “[My wife] Reagan and I are thinking about and praying for Mr. Jalomo’s family. Though he will be missed at Minute Maid, we know he will be watching our games from heaven.”
With his trademark mustache and sombrero covered in Astros lapel pins, Jalomo was as recognizable at Minute Maid Park as Tal’s Hill or the locomotive. He had followed the Astros since 1965, his family said, and held season tickets since ’96. But Jalomo didn’t have a need for a seat. He stood with the friends he made through the years along the railing high above left field, which made him popular with TV cameras and opposing players.
“You see that big ol’ mustache and it just draws you,” said 39-year-old Astros fan Tony Solis, who befriended Jalomo in 2005 and stood next to him at games for the next 14 years. “Everybody would come to the game and say that was my dad, my grandpa, my uncle. … It was easier to tell people, ‘Yeah, OK.’”
Solis and Jalomo were among the founding members of “Los Caballitos,” a fan club for former Astros left fielder Carlos Lee that started in 2007. Dozens of fans would wear sombreros and wave stick ponies in honor of “El Caballo,” the Panamanian slugger who paid for the group’s seasons tickets — 30 in all — for two seasons. Once Lee was traded, the group grew smaller until only Solis and Jalomo remained.
“All the players knew us and they saw us,” Solis said. “The more games you go to, they always look at you and recognize us. The visiting teams were always the ones that remember us more.”
The leader of another Astros fan group, Dave Rojas, died of complications from COVID-19 and colon cancer earlier this year. He founded the “Big Hat Posse,” which wore foam orange hats and stood close to “Los Caballitos” in left field.
Solis recalled Jalomo having conversations with dozens of visiting players through the years, including David Ross and Josh Hamilton. He was also close to Astros legends Jimmy Wynn, who died last year, and Jose Cruz, who Jalomo used to tease about his dark black hair.
“Guys would remember him from other teams, especially the A’s, the Angels,” Solis said. “Him and Josh Hamilton, they were like best friends. Every time Josh would come, they would take a picture, and Josh would give him autographed bat, gloves.”
Solis last saw Jalomo just a week before Christmas when he went to his home, which is filled with Astros gear. Solis said the entertainment center has bobbleheads where pictures once stood, and the garage is stacked 6 feet high with Astros giveaway bobbleheads.
“He would buy extra tickets and invite kids from the neighborhood,” Solis said. “He’d tell the kids, ‘I got a free ticket,’ so they could get a bobblehead.”
Solis said Jalomo had just made his usual trip to a farmer’s market and gave him crates of fresh food and cans of black beans when he last saw him in December.
“We were just talking how everything is going and seeing if we’re going to play this year, seeing if we’d have fans in the stands,” he said. “Now I’m happy I went. He was in good spirits. He was his regular self.”
Jalomo taught bilingual education in the Houston Independent School District for 33 years after graduating from Texas A&I-Kingsville. Even after retirement, he substituted until 2018. When he wasn’t working, he was at Minute Maid Park or following the Astros on the road.
“The Astros were his world,” Gutierrez said. “That’s all he would ever talk about.”
In his final days, the nurses at St. Luke’s Hospital put pictures of Jalomo with friends and family in his hospital room to serve as an inspiration. And there was no shortage of pictures of Jalomo online. The start of the baseball season is around the corner, and Jalomo couldn’t wait to get back into the ballpark to take his familiar spot in left field and pose for more photos.
The family hopes the team will keep an open spot for him in his usual spot above left field when fans are allowed back to Minute Maid Park, but the ballpark will never be the same without him.
“He has the best seat in the house,” Valerie Jalomo said.