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Hart graduate Chris Valaika is getting another shot at the Major League

Posted: March 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 31, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Hart graduate Chris Valaika hits an RBI single in a Spring Training game against the Boston Red Sox on March 11 in Jupiter, Fla. Valaika found out this week that he has earned an Opening Day roster spot with the Miami Marlins.

 

 

Opportunity presented itself in a major way for 2003 Hart High graduate Chris Valaika this past Major League Baseball offseason when he became a free agent after seven up-and-down seasons in the Cincinnati Reds organization.

In 2008, he was the Reds’ top prospect and played at the Old Yankee Stadium in the prestigious Futures Game during Major League All-Star Week.

Valaika had Major League stints with the Reds in 2010 and 2011, but his body wouldn’t cooperate with him.

This ultimately resulted in Valaika signing a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins on Nov. 5 with an invite to Major League Spring Training Camp.

On Thursday, he made the Major League squad and it was announced that he would be on the Opening Day 25-man roster.

“I’m extremely excited, not only to be able to run out there opening day and hear your name called, all that, but coming off the year like last year, being hurt, having surgery and not being able to play in the big leagues,” Valaika said. “I was really excited to come to Miami and get an opportunity to play. I just wanted to get up there at some point and I’m fortunate to get an opportunity to do it from day one.”

On Sept. 11, 2011, Valaika tore his ACL during a game with the Reds. This was his third callup of the season and this particular game he was 2-for-2 at the plate.

He returned to action in 2012, but a meniscus tear took him back into the operating room and led to a subpar season for the former third-round pick out of UC Santa Barbara.

Valaika signed with the Marlins during a time where the franchise was in full firesale mode, having traded off All-Stars Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers and Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson to Toronto — moves criticized throughout baseball because the Marlins had just opened up an elaborate new ballpark with the help of taxpayer dollars.

But the moves also opened up opportunities for players like Valaika — young, hungry players who needed a chance.

Being a nonroster invite to Spring Training, there is hope, but not a lot expected. Sometimes one, maybe two nonroster guys make the Opening Day roster.

“You go in, especially playing a position I play being a utility bench-role player, you have to go in and compete every camp,” Valaika said. “You don’t have a job given to you like guys who have a contract or who are a prospect. You have to go and fight for a job. It was kind of my tunnel vision all spring. I had to be myself and that’s what I did. They seemed to take a liking to that.”

His spring numbers don’t do Valaika justice.

The 27-year-old was 12-for-51(.235 batting average) at the plate with two home runs and four RBIs.

But his versatility was something that the Marlins liked.

In the Majors and minor leagues, he has played third base, shortstop and second base. Valaika said he even worked out at first base during the spring to give him another edge on his competition.

On top of all that, like the Santa Clarita Valley has come to know — he’s a Valaika. Which means he, like his younger brothers who are also Hart High guys — Matt, Patrick and current Indians shortstop Nick — he’s fundamentally sound in the field, can hit and has great instincts for the game.

But his drive was also something that the Marlins decision makers noticed.

“One thing (Marlins manager Mike Redmond) and I kind of talked about early on, he plays with a lot of energy and he’s spunky and he’s a grinder,” said Marlins President of Baseball Operations Larry Beinfest to MLB.com of Valaika.

On Thursday, Valaika was brought into an office with coaching staff, front office staff and ownership and told he made the Opening Day roster.

He said he acted cool during the meeting, but as soon as he left the office, he called his wife, mother and father to deliver the good news.

Now he has a job to do — a job that’s different from what he’s had before.

Valaika will have to make the adjustment to a bench role and stay sharp, despite not being in the lineup every day.

He also has to be on his toes, just in case he gets called in in a pinch.

It’s a job baseball players will tell you is one of the most difficult in the game.

But it doesn’t matter to the Major Leaguer.

Valaika is a Major Leaguer and he has a shot.

“It’s been a grind,” he said. “There have been some times where you feel like you’re down and out, having three surgeries and things like that. This is the job I signed up for. I knew it going in it comes with the territory — bumps in the road you need to overcome. As long as I have a jersey on my back, I’m going to keep fighting and hopefully keep getting opportunities to show what I can do.”

 

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