Hart alum Pat Valaika had been less than a month into his offseason with the Colorado Rockies when he helped put on a youth baseball clinic on Oct. 21 at College of the Canyons.
Coming off his first full season in the majors, Valaika didn’t sound like a player worn down from the proverbial grind of a 162-game season.
“I know it’s weird, but I’m already thinking about how excited I am to pack up and go to spring training,” Valaika said at the clinic.
The Rockies’ postseason ride was cut short at one game after losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Wild Card game.
Valaika’s performance in the Wild Card game was a microcosm of his season, in which he appeared in 110 games for the Rockies. He came off the bench and doubled to help fuel a Rockies comeback that fell short in an 11-8 loss. They were trailing 6-0 through three innings, though.
“We were on the road, but just being in the atmosphere was amazing,” Valaika said. “We kept on fighting and chipping away. I’m happy I got a chance to experience that playoff feel so early in my career.”
Valaika debuted with the Rockies in 2016 but played in just 13 games. He served as a key bat off the bench for the Rockies, hitting .258 with 13 home runs while appearing at shortstop, second base, third base and left field.
The 25-year-old set the team’s single-season rookie record for pinch-hit home runs (4) and overall single-season record for pinch-hit RBIs.
“It’s not easy handling that pinch-hit role, especially for a younger guy,” said Hart coach Jim Ozella, who also coached Valaika’s brothers Chris, Matt and Nick. “He had a ton of hits in key situations for (the Rockies) this season.”
As for a favorite moment last season, Valaika didn’t hesitate when claiming it was homering twice on Mother’s Day at Dodger Stadium while homering on Father’s Day as well.
“(My parents) have been the biggest supporters for me throughout my career, so it meant a lot to have that moment,” Valaika said. “Being able to do that at Dodger Stadium on Mother’s Day, and so close to home, added to how special it was for us.”
Valaika has plenty of mentorship in the form of his three brothers, who were all drafted by MLB organizations, with Nick being taken by the Pirates in June out of UCLA. But he also had the luxury of playing alongside All-Stars like Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado and Ian Desmond, among others.
“Just seeing how those guys prepare on a daily basis and how much work they put in was huge for me,” Pat said. “They’re proof that you’re only going to be as good as the work you put in.”
Valaika wasn’t even the only rookie in the majors who was a Hart alum, as Tyler Glasnow — his high-school teammate — debuted with the Pirates this year. He also wasn’t the only Hart alum to play in the postseason, with Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians) and Mike Montgomery (Chicago Cubs) also taking part.
Ozella said at the beginning of the postseason that the Indians alumni taking the main stage had his current squad buzzing. That notion brought a smile to Pat’s face.
“You go out (to the Hart baseball field) and see that board with our alumni in the majors continue to grow and I’m sure that’s motivation for a lot of them,” Valaika said. “The track record is pretty incredible.”