Extra effort: Valenzuela’s hard work lands him in center field for Mavs
Valenzuela's hard work lands him in center field for Mavs
Sergio Valenzuela crossed the U.S.-Mexico border every day to go to school.
The Tijuana, Mexico, native knew he was doing something to better his life, but it was still scary not knowing what his future held.
“I knew deep inside of me something was going to work out for me,” Valenzuela said. “My senior year of high school, the last moment a (college) recruiter appeared. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.”
That college recruiter put Valenzuela in touch with Colorado Mesa University coach Chris Hanks. Valenzuela took a chance and came to Grand Junction for a summer camp in 2010.
He impressed Hanks enough to get a tour of the campus and was invited to try out for the perennially nationally ranked program that fall.
“I liked it pretty much,” said Valenzuela, the oldest of three children. “I didn’t have any other option to go to school, so I tried it. Hanks gave me an opportunity.”
Valenzuela didn’t make the team, but he remained in school last year.
“It was pretty hard for me,” Valenzuela said. “Coming from Mexico, I didn’t have any idea about college baseball. I was just going to school and had my hopes down. It was pretty hard that second semester.
“I saw how everything was, and knew this is what I want. In the summer I worked hard and came in the fall with a positive attitude. That’s how I got here.”
When Valenzuela came to Mesa, he spoke English, but didn’t speak it fluently.
“Last year, if you listened to me I’d speak (English) a little bit,” he said.
He grew more confident each day while taking classes at Mesa.
Hanks said Valenzuela hit the weights and was more prepared for tryouts this past fall.
“Every baseball player’s dream is to make it to a higher level,” Valenzuela said. “I saw a lot of good players in Mexico that don’t want to keep going. That was disappointing to me, watching people with good talent. I wanted it.”
The redshirt freshman outfielder not only made the team in the fall, he performed well enough to come back in the spring.
“He’s a great kid,” Hanks said. “He’s a worker. He doesn’t talk, he just does it.
“He performed well in our spring scrimmage and earned the opportunity to travel. He made us take him (on the trip to Grand Canyon last week).”
Valenzuela started two games in the opening series in center field and hit in the leadoff spot. He was 2 for 9 and scored two runs.
“I did something you’ve got to live (to understand),” Valenzuela said. “I’ve got the chills right now. When Hanks told me, ‘Go to bat,’ I was living it. I was extremely happy.
“It was the moment (I’d) been waiting for a long time.”
Valenzuela could see more playing time this weekend as the No. 29 Mavericks host UC-San Diego in a four-game series at Canyon View Park. The first game is set for 2 p.m. on Friday, with a doubleheader at noon Saturday and one game at noon Sunday.
“We call him ‘Benny the Jet,’ like the character in Sandlot,” Hanks said. “He can run. He brings a dialed-in focus every pitch. He plays hard. He takes a good angle at the plate. He’s not an easy out.”