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Prep baseball: Balta will be a Duck

Valencia junior verbals to Oregon

Posted: April 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 19, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Imagine that the hardest part of accepting a baseball scholarship is telling other schools that you chose another school.

That was the case for Valencia High junior center fielder A.J. Balta.

There was a demand for the reigning Foothill League and All-Santa Clarita Valley Player of the Year, so when he accepted a scholarship from the University of Oregon last Friday, he had to let other schools, like Arizona and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, know that he appreciated their interest, but decided to pursue his collegiate career with the No. 8 team in the country.

“Oregon was my No. 1 choice all along,” Balta said. “Great team. Great coaching staff. Coach (George) Horton is a legendary coach. The weather. It’s also the best for my family.”

Horton has a longtime connection to Southern California, having coached at Cerritos and Los Angeles Valley colleges, then leading Cal State Fullerton from 1996-2007.

He won a national title in 2004 with Fullerton and was also the head coach for former Valencia power hitter and current Colorado Rockies minor leaguer Jared Clark at Fullerton.

Balta is coming off a monster sophomore season in which he batted .425 with a Foothill League-leading 11 home runs. He also added 25 RBIs.

The center fielder is one of the better defensive outfielders in the Foothill League, displaying tremendous range with his speed and glove work.

This season, he has been bothered by wrist and back injuries, but has still managed to bat .321 with 14 RBIs this season. He was 2-for-3 with an RBI and an intentional walk on Wednesday in a 5-3 win over West Ranch.

“The beginning of the season was a little rough,” Balta said. “But this is a big weight off my shoulders. I realized you’ve always got to have fun playing baseball, no matter who you’re trying to impress.”

Oregon was impressed and will give Balta an opportunity to play either second base or outfield come 2014.


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