Valaika brothers make baseball a family affair

At Newhall Hart, the outset of the 21st century is going to be known as the Valaika Era.

Every baseball season since 2000, with the exception of 2007, there has been a Valaika brother playing on the varsity team. That’s scheduled to continue through 2014. And the brothers don’t just show up every four years, put on a uniform and blend into the background. They hit, they field and they make a huge impact.

The first brother was Chris, who became Hart’s standout shortstop, batting .411, .411 and .426 in his three full varsity seasons. He went on to be an All-Big West Conference player at UC Santa Barbara and is an infielder in the Triple-A International League with the Cincinnati Reds organization.

Next up was Matt, another shortstop and three-year varsity starter who has become the top player at Santa Barbara in his senior year. He’s batting .320 with four home runs and 23 runs batted in.

This season, Patrick is the Indians’ senior shortstop who signed with UCLA and is coming off a season in which he batted .371 with 33 hits. This season, he’s batting .314 with 11 stolen bases.

And next year, Hart Coach Jim Ozella can’t wait for the arrival of the last but perhaps the best Valaika brother, Nicky, an eighth-grader who could end up being the tallest sibling and certainly will have the biggest hands and biggest feet.

“It’s one after another after another,” Ozella said.

Eight years ago, there was a photo taken of the brothers together on the diamond, with then-6-year-old Nicky so small he fit under Chris’ legs. To see them grow up, live up to their baseball potential and also excel in the classroom says a lot about the family.

“Chris was kind of the trailblazer,” their father, Jeff, said. “The others look up to him as a role model.”

But Jeff said if any of them decided to stop playing baseball, that would be fine with him. He said it’s their choice to put in many hours on the practice field to become top players.

“What you have is really a group of brothers who were following in Chris’ footsteps, and that is if you work hard and are determined, you can be successful,” Ozella said. “They’re really determined to win.”

Matt was also an outstanding soccer player, as is Nicky. Patrick, who stands nearly 6 feet 1, has become an exceptional fielder.

Ozella remembers when the boys’ mother, Ilona, started working in the snack shack and each Valaika boy would help carry food in from the car.

“You had little guys following her,” Ozella said.

Family talk revolves day and night around baseball. If one of the brothers isn’t on the computer trying to see what Chris and Matt are doing, they’re watching baseball on TV or playing baseball.

Chris is the orchestrator, and every brother looks up to him.

“He paved the way and got our name out there,” Patrick said. “He’s a complete player, and I wish I could be just like him.”

During the off-season, it wasn’t unusual for all four Valaika boys to work out at Hart together, with a smiling Ozella looking on.

“It’s been a great run,” Ozella said.