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Nation has taken a Shine to Valencia's Baseball Star
June, 2009 - Issue #56
Christian Lopes
Christian Lopes
If somebody had told the 10-year-old version of Valencia High sophomore Christian Lopes that he'd end up spending his days the way he does now, he wouldn't have just called them crazy. He probably would have broken down into a full-blown tantrum.

Most kids hate broccoli, baths and bedtime. Lopes' biggest beef was with baseball.

"I begged my dad not to make me play," Lopes says. "When he first took me to the complex, I cried. I wasn't even willing to swing a bat. I was afraid. I really hated it."

Now? Lopes wouldn't know what to do with himself if he had to go a day without it.

The Valencia shortstop, whose name is well-known by just about every major college baseball program and Major League Baseball team, was rated as the top 13-year-old in the entire United States by Baseball America just three years after being dragged onto a field. Last year, he started at shortstop for the Valencia High varsity team as a freshman and was one of five finalists for CalHiSports.com's state freshman athlete of the year.

Good thing he doesn't hate baseball anymore; there'll be plenty of it in his future.

"He'll have his choice of wherever he wants to go," says Valencia High Head Coach Jared Snyder. "He'll have his choice of any college. He has that kind of ability. He could be a first-round [Major League] draft pick. He could go in the top-10 picks. It's up to him."

If Lopes doesn't live up to those predictions, it won't be for a lack of effort.

How's this for the daily routine of a kid who doesn't even have a driver's license?

When Valencia's daily three hour-plus practice sessions wind down, Lopes' workouts are just getting started. It's off to the batting cages for additional work on his hitting, seven days a week. He tops his day off with a two-hour workout at L.A. Fitness. Lopes follows a strict workout plan designed especially for him that builds baseball-related strength.

He gets his plans from Sunday visits to Santa Barbara's Peak Performance Project.

"If I had a license, I'd be there every day," Lopes says. "I want to get better. Most people at the gym are there to get buff. I'm there to maximize my ability as a baseball player."

If his off-season dance card is any indication, the hard work seems to be paying off.

Lopes spent last summer playing on the USA 16-and-under national team, starting every game in the squad's championship run through the Youth Pan American Championships in Veracruz, Mexico. He also played for the Brewers Elite team at USC and in the Area Code Games, an elite showcase tournament in front of hundreds of major league scouts.

Naturally, every time he steps onto a high school diamond, all eyes are glued to him.

Even before Lopes' first high school game, there was pressure to perform.
"There are definitely expectations," Lopes says. "But I don't listen to the gossip. If I worried every time I went 0-for-3 and told myself I had to go 3-for-3 the next game, that's not the point. If I stick with my plan and take it one at-bat at a time, it'll work out."

Not that opposing fans don't like to test the youngster anyway.

As a freshman in particular, Lopes was a regular subject of taunts. In one game at Hart, he hit a home run early and then saw his day go downhill with several errors on the field.

"They chanted MVP every time I came up to bat for the rest of the game," Lopes says with a laugh. "It was obviously sarcastic. I heard a lot of things. I just enjoy it. Derek Jeter gets booed every time he bats on the road. He says he lives for that stuff. That means they know who you are and respect what you can do to them. I take it that way."

His results on the field show just how little the pressure is affecting him.

In his first season, Lopes batted .408 and led the Foothill League with 10 home runs.

Despite getting fewer pitches to hit as teams increasingly try to avoid throwing him strikes, there's been no sophomore slump, either. Lopes hit .377 with eight home runs through the first half of the season with five home runs in his first eight league games.

"He's a threat to do something big every single at-bat," Snyder says. "That's rare."

Good thing Lopes decided to stick with it.

Imagine if his dad had let him quit without ever giving it a chance.

"I'm loving it," Lopes says. "When you get between those lines, there's no feeling like it. Baseball is definitely my drug of choice. I can't imagine not playing. Baseball's my life."
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