Hart players celebrate after a good play during a game at West Ranch on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

Hart baseball prepares for alumni game

Hart baseball will hold its annual alumni game at Hart High on Sunday, Jan. 27, welcoming former and current players along with the community.

“Everybody who has played at Hart is invited,” said Hart baseball head coach Jim Ozella. “We are a community-based program so we don’t have kids from far away communities. Hopefully, we will get a great turnout of former players and former parents.”

Each year, Hart selects players, parents and other people who have contributed in some form or another to be honored and be inducted into the team’s Wall of Fame. This year’s inductees include Hart baseball alumnus Jenzen Torres along with Ilona and Jeff Valaika, the parents of former Hart baseball players Chris, Matt, Patrick and Nick.

“Ilona and Jeff were always highly involved in our Dugout Club,” Ozella said. “They were involved in various duties with Jeff serving as the president and Ilona as the treasurer along with producing four great kids.”

Torres, who played catcher for the Indians, returns to Hart after playing collegiate baseball for Cal Poly Pomona, finishing as the program’s all-time leader in home runs with 34 in 199 games.

Torres is currently entering his seventh year as an assistant coach for Cal Poly as well as a co-recruiting coordinator.

“He was an outstanding player for us and is the all-time home run leader at Cal Poly,” Ozella said. “He has worked so hard throughout the years as both a player and a coach and has really made a difference.”

Ozella hopes that younger baseball players will have the chance to learn from those who came before them and understand what the Hart tradition is all about.

“In regards to Hart baseball, it’s really a program that has a long-standing tradition,” he said. “When the younger kids see the older guys making it and come back, they want to be just like them.

“It’s really an opportunity for the older guys to come back and share their knowledge and experiences. We are in the people business, so for us, it’s about developing people, not just athletes.”

Festivities will begin at 11 a.m. with alumni check-in, followed with the alumni a Wall of Fame introductions at noon, the 2019 team introductions at 12:30 p.m. before a three-inning game starts at 1 p.m.

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