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Chris Valaika takes the long way home

Posted: August 2, 2014 9:55 p.m.
Updated: August 2, 2014 9:55 p.m.

Hart alumnus and Chicago Cubs infielder Chris Valaika swings during the first inning of Saturday's game against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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LOS ANGELES — The grinder kept grinding.

And see where it got him.

Hart High graduate Chris Valaika in all his years of playing baseball — in high school, in showcases, with the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins — had never played at Dodger Stadium.

Now he’s here.

“It couldn’t have happened any better,” Valaika said. “To have a nice homecoming like that couldn’t have happened any better.”

The Chicago Cubs called up Valaika from Triple-A Iowa on Friday, hours after the team traded versatile position player Emilio Bonifacio.

Valaika, 28, knew the moment he was called up that the Cubs would be flying to Los Angeles to play the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

More than the homecoming, though, the bigger story here is Valaika’s fight.

In 2008, Baseball America rated Valaika as the Cincinnati Reds’ top prospect.

He eventually made it to the big leagues in 2010 with the Reds, played a little bit in 2011 and found his way to Miami last year to play a little more.

That was 55 big league games over three Major League seasons.

The Reds and Marlins both eventually cut ties with him.

But over those years, he learned to be versatile. He wasn’t a shortstop anymore, but an infielder who played all four infield positions in the Marlins’ minor league system last year.

“That’s the role I’ve come into the last couple of years, the utility role,” Valaika said. “I think I showed the coaching staff here they could trust me through all the positions in the infield. And I think that versatility has given me an opportunity today.”

Valaika signed with the Cubs in the offseason knowing that with all the youth in the organization, he might get a chance to make the big league club.

In Spring Training, he hit only .225 (9-for-40), but offered a good look for the Cubs Major League staff.

In Iowa, he batted .278 with a .344 on-base percentage and hit 10 home runs and knocked in 50 runs.

Valaika played every infield position and even played in left field twice. He never purchased an outfielder’s glove until this year.

When Bonifacio was traded, the Cubs could have made other choices of guys to bring up. But Valaika was the guy.

“For us, he gives you a really good big league at-bat. He’s a solid defender. He’s got experience doing that, and I think he’s an appropriate guy to have help us fill a position that we need,” said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. “He’s versatile. Obviously he’s been in the big leagues before. He brings a very composed professional approach to this game, which is going to be helpful for us.”

Valaika, now in his ninth professional season, will turn 29 on Aug. 14.

After a torn ACL in 2011, a meniscus tear in 2012, a fractured left wrist last July and six times coming up to the Major Leagues only to be sent back down, the 2003 Hart grad hasn’t thought about taking the uniform off.

Because you never know what can happen if you keep at it.

“As long as I have a uniform on my back I have a chance, and that’s been my motto the last couple of years after being with the Reds a couple years and the Marlins last year and getting an opportunity here,” Valaika said. “Every day I get to play it’s a blessing.”

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