Madera South grad still playing sport he loves
Madera Tribune File Photo
Madera South catcher Aaron Vallez places the tag on San Joaquin Memorial’s Jacob Vieira for the final out of the fifth inning of a 6-2 loss in 2014.
Since Aaron Vallez graduated from Madera South in 2014, he is still able to play the sport he loves — baseball.
Vallez was enjoying his junior season at York College in Nebraska when his season was shut down and has two more seasons coming up.
“Next year, I’ll be a junior, again,” he said. “I keep calling myself a super sophomore. With the coronavirus, that added another year of eligibility. With things going on now, the way I’m understanding it, I’ll have senior credits and junior eligibility. I would like to go and finish out schooling. Then, get my masters while still being able to play baseball. The only reason I would say masters, even though I never thought I want to keep going to school, but it’s the only thing I’ve known. Why not tough it out another year. If I continue to get my masters at York, it would be cheaper than anywhere else. My dad said I have the rest of my life to work.”
Vallez was a second-team All-County Metro Athletic Conference catcher after his senior season. He was also a member of the All-Madera Tribune baseball team and the first Madera South recipient of The Madera Tribune Sportsmanship Award.
“A lot of people think when it comes to sportsmanship, you are playing the game softly,” he said. “You’re playing the game the right way.”
After he graduated from Madera South, Vallez played for Reedley College.
“Personally, I don’t think I got the best jump start out of high school to continue playing at the next level,” he said. “I went to Reedley College and was on that team. At the end of the year, the coach told me there were no promises I would have the same position the next year, which was the bullpen catcher. He liked my defense. He thought that if he needed a defensive catcher, I was the one they would put in because there wasn’t a lot of balls that got past me. It discouraged me to try out for the team the next year. I already had my roots there. I went out for the team, anyway. I made the first cuts, but got cut just before the semester finished. That blew a hole in my plan. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew I loved the game and knew I still had a lot more drive than guys I was playing with or against. That’s the thing that kept me in the sport for so long. I love to compete. I love to win. It’s just fun being a part of a team to give what you have.”
Vallez finished his semester at Reedley and picked up a couple of jobs. During a year-and-a-half away from baseball, Vallez attended Fresno City College while living in Fresno. Then, he was forced to move back home and decided to see if he could find a baseball program to play for and found Merced College.
“They have a really good baseball program,” he said. “I was there for a year and tried out for the team. I didn’t make that team and was put on a redshirt team. The year of eligibility wasn’t taken away from me. I was able to go to practice everyday and get my skills up. You can say it was a blessing, but it was a little disrespectful. It seems like I need a full year to win any coach over. That’s been my story.”
While he was keeping his skills sharp at Merced, a former teammate, Aaron Alvarez, played for York College.
“Aaron Alvarez had done some recruiting on his own,” Vallez said. “He got some guys from the Reedley team to go with him to York College. That’s been the move ever since. I was on the team last year. There were at least five of us from Reedley and the drive on the team was incredible. We all knew we were good. The year before, the team went on a run at the end of the season. They ended up one tournament away from the World Series. The guys on that team knew what it was like to get that close. They knew how bad they were and how the season could switch it around. There weren’t a lot of guys that messed around after that. We knew we were on the right path from the beginning. That was a fun year. I got to bullpen catch.”
Vallez’s York career came to a crashing halt, literally, before it even got a chance to start.
“I ran into a brick backstop face first trying to catch a foul ball,” he said. “It was the first game of the season. That was the point where the guys on the team took me seriously. I was out for two weeks and got 23 stitches on my forehead. People ask if I caught the ball, but I don’t know.”
York played well and advanced to the Regionals in Louisiana.
“Just being able to travel was awesome,” he said. “There’s no other reason to be in the Midwest. I know what it’s like if I want to go there.”
Vallez is still grateful that he is still playing baseball six years after he graduated from Madera South. However, this year was the first year that he played other positions besides catcher.
“This last year was a lot better for me,” he said. “I’m one of those old school players. If I’m on the bench, you can put me anywhere. I don’t care. That’s what we’re seeing a lot is seeing players not wanting to play different positions. That’s the advantage I bring to the table. I told the coach that at the end of last year. I told him I’m a catcher and that’s my main spot, but when I see some of these guys making errors, I can play outfield. If you put me out there, I can get to the ball and get it back in quick. I have an arm. I might not have the speed, but I have the arm to make up for it. He took me seriously. This last fall, I was playing second base, right field and pitching. When he wanted to showcase me, he would put me in to catch. It was a lot better of a year this year. One of our guys was getting cramps and it was one of the first time inserted into the middle of the game. I went 2-for-3 with a three-run double. It was the perfect opportunity for me. My coach is starting to trust me. Now, I have to prove it.”
Vallez continues a pipeline of Madera athletes at the small Nebraska college. Last year, there were three Madera athletes and another one (Sofia Perez) will play there this year.
“I have noticed Madera kids at York,” he said. “I recognized them by their faces. I never heard of York before I went there. I knew Roni Miller, the softball coach. The crazy part is they are four or five years younger than me and we’re at the same school. These people are younger than my sister. They were taking bigger steps than I might have. They came out of here out of high school without friends. I came out here with guys I knew from Reedley. If it was me by myself, who knows how that would have been. York has been great when it comes to referrals by mouth. You go from the middle of California to the middle of U.S.”
Vallez looks back at his career and has kind of a neutral feeling about it.
“You always want to go back and think you can do better,” he said. “There’s a huge separation between high school and college. In high school, I felt if you don’t want to be here, you shouldn’t. That’s even more in college. I had a blast in high school. I played my butt off. It was fun and it blew by.”