LAST TIME TO SHINE SHORTSTOP WILL END PREP CAREER REPRESENTING HART IN ALL-STAR GAME.
NEWHALL - As a participant in the 27th annual Bernie Milligan Daily News All-Star Game, Hart High's Chris Valaika continues to establish himself as one of the region's best baseball players.
But Valaika is more than that. He's among the best teenage players in the nation, proven by the fact he leaves Monday for Joplin, Mo., to participate on USA Baseball's 18-under national team.
So Valaika figures to be among the marquee attractions for Saturday's 1:30 p.m. game at Birmingham High in Lake Balboa. He'll probably start at shortstop for the East team, and he's got an excellent chance to win the pregame home run contest considering he's Hart's career leader with 18, including 10 this season.
He's been an all-star since T-ball, and by now Valaika's talent has been showcased across North America - through the years he's played in Arizona, Louisiana, Texas, New York, Florida, even Mexico - but Saturday's event will be special for him. The Milligan fest is Valaika's last chance to represent his school and community, an obligation he takes seriously.
``It's going to be a lot of fun and a good chance to show what we can do,'' Valaika said. ``We had kind of a tough year this season, and things didn't always go my way. I've learned to battle adversity, and this gives me one more chance.''
Hart teammates Ian Feldman, Kyle Boggio and Danny Williams are participating, along with Saugus players Mike Scripture and Adam Tripp.
Valaika tied Hart's career home run record in the team's final game - a 14-10 playoff loss to Santiago of Corona - but it was not a typically dominant year for either Valaika or the team. He injured his hand midway through the season and suffered through a power slump during which he hit one home run in 17 games, finishing with a .426 average, 10 home runs (four over the final six games) and 26 RBI in 94 at-bats, as Hart finished just 15-13.
Had Valaika been fully healthy, he probably would have batted better than .500 and hit 15 home runs, considering he entered his senior season with a .411 average and a seven-homer junior season.
``After I got hurt, I couldn't squeeze the bat, so I had to go to physical therapy. Then things kind of snowballed,'' he said. ``My hand is getting better but it still hurts.''
Hart coach Jim Ozella said he admired Valaika for persevering through a painful injury that would have sidelined a lot of other players, some perhaps for the rest of the season.
``I think it says something about his character that he was willing to play with that injury,'' Ozella said. ``He never whined about it. He just kept on busting his rear end. He kept hitting, and he kept making the plays. He's had an outstanding career for us.''
His teammate Williams calls Valaika ``a total team player.''
``Chris had a great year by tying the home run record. He worked hard and he's a great player,'' Williams said. ``Plus Chris kind of took our younger players like (second baseman) Shane Carlson under his wing.''
Added Feldman: ``Chris Valaika was the No. 1 guy on our team. Everyone, including all the seniors, looked up to him. He was the one we all turned to for leadership. He's an incredible leader.''
Valaika was a bit disappointed he wasn't picked in the recent major- league draft. Nevertheless, he's more than happy to fulfill his commitment to UC Santa Barbara on a full scholarship.
``I would have liked to hear my name called, but I've got a (Division I) scholarship for four years. I wouldn't have turned that down anyway had I been a low pick,'' he said. ``Thinking about it, college is my best bet because I'll have something to fall back on.''
AT A GLANCE
What: 27th annual Bernie Milligan Daily News All-Star Game
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Where: Birmingham High in Lake Balboa
Locals: Kyle Boggio, Hart; Ian Feldman, Hart; Mike Scripture, Saugus; Adam Tripp, Saugus; Chris Valaika, Hart; Danny Williams, Hart.
Considering it was not a typically dominant season for either Chris Valaika or the Hart High team, Valaika is looking for a better ending in the Bernie Milligan Daily News All-Star Game.
David Crane/Staff Photographer
AT A GLANCE (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Jun 11, 2003|
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