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Impact freshman

Posted: May 25, 2008 2:16 a.m.
Updated: July 26, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 

Christian Lopes didn't hit like a freshman. He didn't field, run, or do any baseball activity like a freshman. Off the field, he didn't act like a freshman either.

"He's just an amazing player, but the greatest thing about it is he's just a wonderful human being," Valencia baseball coach Jared Snyder said of his shortstop. "Humble, courteous, I can't say enough about that kid. He's a joy to coach and he's a great kid."

After Friday's loss in the Southern Section CIF-Division I Quarterfinals, Lopes is officially no longer a freshman.

But what a year it was and what a future he projects to have. The 2006 National Youth Baseball Player of the Year didn't disappoint. He hit over .400 with ten home runs, and as the leadoff hitter led the Vikings in walks.

The most astounding part of watching Lopes play is that he still has three years left at the high school level. There's still room for improvement.

"That's the thing about him, that kid does not settle," Snyder said. "He will improve. You'll be shocked the next three years because he does not sit back. He works hard every single day."

Senior pitcher Josh Corrales took Lopes under his wing this season. He knew Lopes for several years before Lopes came to Valencia and saw the talent. But there was also the way Lopes handled everything. For one, you can't see the expectations placed on this 15-year old by his face.

"He definitely has a good poker face," Corrales said.

The youth and inexperience is still there amid all the production. Friday, he hit two home runs, Valencia's only offense, but also committed two errors. After the game, he kept things in perspective.

"Even if I did hit all those home runs, if I hit seven, the score was 13-2," he said. "It didn't matter, it was a team effort and we came up short."

Corrales said he expects Lopes' numbers to go way up. If that's the case they may hit the roof. The scary thing in this situation is that there might not be one.

"His talent is through the roof," Corrales said.

The season is over, but Lopes is getting back to work. He'll have a week or two off first, according to his dad, Jack, and then it's off to the races.

His busy summer includes the Junior Olympics in Arizona, the East Cobb games in Georgia, and the Mariners Cup at Safeco Field in Seattle.

"I don't even know if I'm going to be in California," Lopes said half-jokingly.

And then there's the possibility of playing on the USA Under 16 National team. Lopes will find out if he made the team in June after the Junior Olympics.

The motivation to continue getting better is there.

"He's very humble kid, he doesn't let anything get to him, as a far as ego wise," Jack said. "He's a worker."

In his room are posters of his idol, Alex Rodriguez. He researched his stats and read up on his high school career. He followed A-Rod to the shortstop position, although A-Rod has since moved to third.

Before school, Lopes hits off a tee. After practice, he stays for more work.

His goals are to improve his agility, learn how to read hops at short, and to get stronger overall.

There's just one problem. His dad won't let him lift weights just yet.

"But we'll see," Lopes said, smiling.

Jack thinks the younger Lopes can cut down on his strikeouts and improve defensively. For his freshman year, Jack gave his son an A-. Expectations for next season will only be greater, a product of his own success.

"The way I look at it is those numbers for a senior are pretty good numbers," Jack said.

His senior season awaits, but not for another two years. The future appears bright and the lights will only get brighter.

The summer is almost here, but like his idol, Lopes will be off touring the country, playing baseball. It's easy to look far ahead. It's too easy to try and project how good Lopes will be down the line, perhaps one day wearing a pro uniform. It's also easy to forget he was just a freshman.

And he still has his sophomore year to look forward to.

"I just hope he can live up against the sophomore jinx," Jack said.

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