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Delayed but not deterred

Hart graduate’s run to MLB has been slowed by injury but made him a more complete player

Posted: July 27, 2009 9:58 p.m.
Updated: July 28, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Hart graduate Chris Valaika was slowed by broken hand this season, but he found a way to increase his value to the Louisville Bats and better his chances for ascension to the Majors.

 
This season has been a year of growth for Louisville Bats infielder and Hart graduate Chris Valaika.

After ascending through the ranks of the Cincinnati Reds system in his first three years with the club, Valaika hit his first road block on the road to the Majors when he broke his hand on May 13, which led to him missing five weeks with the team’s Triple-A affiliate.

Still, Valaika stayed positive and returned to the lineup in an everyday role, resuming his quest to make it to “The Show.”

“I’m happy to be back,” Valaika says. “I’ve been picking up my hitting, but it took me a little time to get back into the groove. I’m trying to get better at-bats and work on my consistency. I’ve been making adjustments.”

While Valaika, who has consistently topped .300 since being drafted in the third round in 2006, has struggled at the plate, batting .210, he focused on other aspects of his game to help his continuing progression.

He has been taking ground balls at second base, shortstop and third base to add to his value to the organization.

“We have run him through the organization quickly,” says Bats manager Rick Sweet. “He’s come along at a rapid pace wherever he has been, but I think at the beginning of this year he had a tough time adjusting, and then he had the injury, but he has come back swinging the bat better, and he works so hard practicing in the field. I know he can play anywhere we put him, and we are going to find a way to get him a shot to play third because he has already shown he can play short or second.”

Upon his return, Valaika spent most of his time at second, but of late he has gotten more work at shortstop.

“I like playing anywhere on the field,” Valaika says. “I just like playing ball. I’ve been taking ground balls whenever I get the chance. I’m all for whatever opportunity I can get.”

Valaika is also working on the social side of the game and learning from the veterans on the Bats roster.

“We have a great team chemistry,” Valaika says. “It’s a really good mix of veterans and young guys. I’m working on being a better teammate, and that’s easy with these guys. I’m just trying to be a complete player and take in what the older players on the team know.”

Sweet has seen Valaika as a major asset to the Bats, and a plus in the clubhouse.

His focus is one of his best traits according to his coach.

“He’s a real throwback,” Sweet says. “He is always learning. He is a great teammate, and I know all the guys think he is a positive force in the clubhouse. There isn’t a day that he doesn’t play hard, and he does things the right way. He has been a real pleasure to have on the team, and he is a great chemistry guy.”

The chemistry Valaika has helped foster has been a major reason for the Bats’ success. Louisville currently has a nine-game cushion in the International League West Division.

The Bats’ solid play has Valaika already thinking about the playoffs.

“I would love to win a title,” Valaika says. “That’s one thing I’ve never done in the Minors, so it would be pretty cool to do it. I’ve been in the playoffs so I know what that’s like, but it would be even sweeter to win a championship with these guys. It would be amazing.”

Even though he plans to move on to the next level, Valaika is currently enjoying his time with the Bats.

“Louisville is a great city,” Valaika says. “Downtown is great. There are a lot of great places to eat, and the fans are great. It’s been awesome to get to play here.”

As for Valaika’s future, his injury may have delayed his potential call-up to the Majors, but he is not deterred. He currently is not on the Reds’ 40-man roster, which means he is not eligible yet for a September run with the big league club unless someone else is removed from the roster.

Also, the Reds are currently carrying seven infielders on their 25-man Major League roster.

Still, the goal playing Major League baseball is closer than it has ever been for Valaika.

“It would be a dream come true,” Valaika says. “I know now might not be my time yet. It’s not my job to make decisions about the roster, but I know if I play better, then in a way, I’ll force their hand.”

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