Valaika retires from playing career, joins UCSB baseball coaching staff

Former Gaucho standout Chris Valaika – who announced his retirement today after a 10-year career in professional baseball, including parts of four seasons in the majors – will be returning to the UCSB baseball program as an undergraduate assistant coach, it was revealed today by head coach Andrew Checketts.

“We’re extremely excited to bring Chris back into the fold here at UCSB,” said Checketts. “He was a great all-around player during his time as a Gaucho, and with MLB experience now on his resume, he is an invaluable addition to our program. Our team is very lucky to have somebody with his track record and baseball know-how.”

With the Gauchos, he will be coach first base, instruct infielders alongside assistant coach Eddie Cornejo, and support assistant coach Neil Walton with the offense. Off the field, he will be working towards his degree in history.

Valaika, who made his MLB debut with the Cincinnati Reds on Aug. 24, 2010, comes back to the Gauchos after a lengthy career across three organizations.

Besides Cincinnati, the infielder also spent time with the Miami Marlins and Chicago Cubs organizations, last appearing in the majors with Chicago in the 2014 season. Over 99 career MLB games, the Santa Monica-born Valaika appeared at every infield position. His best offensive season in the big leagues came in his rookie season of 2010, when he batted .263 with the Reds.

Over a 10-year minor league career (1,001 games played), Valaika slashed .277/.325/.410. He had a number of stellar seasons in the minors, including 2008 (.363 batting average, .585 slugging percentage with High-A Sarasota) and 2010 (batted .304 with AAA Louisville).

In the 2006 MLB First-Year Player Draft, Cincinnati made Valaika the second-highest position player draftee in UCSB history when they selected him with their third round pick (84th overall). That came on the heels of an impressive college career that included two All-Big West selections and 2004 Freshman All-America honors.

In his two healthy seasons with the Gauchos (2004 and 2006), Valaika put together a .341 batting average, 17 home runs, and 95 runs batted in. He had one of the best single-game offensive performances in program history on May 21, 2006 when he clubbed a pair of home runs – including a grand slam – en route to a seven-RBI game.

The Gauchos are coming off a historic 2015 season in which they set a program record for wins against Division I opponents (40) while hosting an NCAA Regional for the first time in UCSB history. After the season, 10 UCSB players were drafted by MLB teams, a figure which ranked second in the country only to Oklahoma (11).