Former players reconnect at Hart Alumni Game

Hart baseball alumni and their families stand in front of the Mike Gaber Press Box at the annual Hart Alumni Game at Hart High School Sunday afternoon. Cory Rubin/The Signal

In 2008, Jenzen Torres parked his car behind left center of the Hart baseball field, walked through the entrance to the field, walked by the cage and greeted his teammates.

On Sunday afternoon, Jenzen Torres did the same thing all over again 11 years later at the Hart Baseball Alumni Game.

“I literally did everything the same,” Torres said. “It was awesome. Really, really cool.”

Torres was one of 26 alumni in attendance for the alumni event, which Hart baseball coach Jim Ozella has hosted for 19 years.

A member of the 2008 Foothill League championship team that was also named the CIF-Southern Section All-Academic team, Torres was inducted into the Hart Baseball Wall of Fame.

In his senior year with the Indians, Torres was 26-for-77 with 19 runs and 20 RBIs. He went on to play four years at Cal Poly Pomona before becoming a coach with the NCAA Division 2 program.

“When coach called me and told me, I was speechless,” Torres said. “Very humbled a grateful for him, for allowing me to be a part of this program. You always walk by the wall and see all the Hall of Fame names and now my name will be up there. It’s a really, really humbling experience for me. It’s something I’ll never forget and always cherish.”

Ilona and Jeff Valaika were also honored at the Wall of Fame ceremony for their 14 years of service to the Hart baseball program. The Valaika family saw four boys play for the Indians and dedicated countless volunteer hours.

Hart alumni and Major League Baseball players Pat and Chris Valaika stand with their mother, Ilona as she and her husband, Jeff are inducted into the Alumni Wall of Fame at the annual Hart Alumni Game at Hart High School Sunday afternoon. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Ilona began the first canteen for the Indians, selling snacks on a cart during games years ago. She and her husband were instrumental in getting the team new dugouts, which are still in use today.

“Her and Jeff played such an enormous role in our program for years,” Ozella said. “I’m not talking about just being parents to those kids, but it was a non-stop thing for all those years.

“I told her today, we texted, she says ‘I hope I can get through this.’ I said, ‘We’ll get through it together.’ We’ll shed some tears together, but you know, its just a small thank you for all your years of passion for what you did.”

The current Hart baseball freshman, JV and varsity teams, then alumni in attendance were introduced to stands filled with spectators before the alumni took the field for a three-inning game.

Hart alumnus and former MLB player Steven Susdorf grounds the ball up the middle at the annual Hart Alumni Game at Hart High School Sunday afternoon. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“Some in better shape than you were in your younger days,” Ozella said jokingly as he announced the alumni.

Torres was able to drive a single down the third base line in the second inning, but pride means little in a game that emphasizes the connections that were made around that field years ago.

“The stuff that was on the field was all great, wins and stuff like that, but being, hanging out with them yes an and stuff like that, that was the biggest thing that you always cherish,” Torres said.

“For me, that was probably the thing that always sticks with me. We were a really good team and all that stuff and we won some league titles and all that, but for me, the bond you build with your teammates was, that’s the thing you’ll never forget.”

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