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Valenzuela preparing for baseball life outside Yuma
In just a few months, Hector Valenzuela likely will be representing a non-Yuma baseball team for the first time in his life.
Before that happens, the Arizona Western sophomore designated hitter and infielder is making the most of his time as a Matador.
After reaching the playoffs last year, Valenzuela and the Matadors are in the hunt for another playoff berth as the season approaches the midpoint, despite being mired in a streak of four straight doubleheader splits.
“We're doing all right, but we need to start winning,” Valenzuela said. “We need to stop splitting and start winning. We need to win some games. But we're working hard and it will come for us.”
The six times the Matadors have split a conference doubleheader this year, they've won the first game.
“We just — in the second game we need to start off hitting,” said the former Kofa standout. “In the first game usually we end hitting pretty good. In the second game, we're not there.”
Valenzuela had been second on the team in batting average for most of the season before falling behind former Kofa teammate Angel Sanchez. He's still third with a .280 batting average, tied for first with 15 walks and third with 15 runs doing most of his work out of the second spot in the order.
Coach Drew Keehn said he has all the tools a coach could want out of a No. 2 hitter.
“He has the ability to hit, run, bunt, drive a baseball,” Keehn said. “He's strong enough to hit doubles. He runs the bases well. He's an offensive player. Last year, when we had him in the lineup, it was stronger with him in it because I know what I'm going to get from him. I'm going to get a quality at-bat from him. I know he's going to compete.”
The Matadors are 16-11 overall and 8-6 in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference heading into the Jack Howell Classic today in Tucson, where they will play four games in two days, starting with Eastern Arizona at 1:15 p.m.
Valenzuela said he's talked to a few colleges, mostly smaller ones in Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota. It might seem like a big change for someone who went from being a Kofa King to an Arizona Western Matador, but Valenzuela said he is looking forward to it.
“I'm excited to get out of here. I want to keep playing. Hopefully good things come if I keep working hard.”
Keehn said he expects his 5-foot-7 infielder to excel wherever he ends up.
“His game will play. I think stature-wise, he's going to come in and I think that's one thing he'll have against him. But I think he plays bigger than his size.
“He'll go in, probably as he's always done, with a little bit of a chip on his shoulder, and be able to compete and be able to get into a lineup somewhere. He'll make that adjustment fine. ... He just plays baseball like we want guys to play. He just plays the game right.”