MORAGA — Eric Valenzuela's college coaching career has come full circle.

Before he assisted Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn at San Diego State and helped the Oakland A's A.J. Griffin, the Chicago White Sox's Addison Reed and the Baltimore Orioles' Brian Matusz reach the big leagues, Valenzula launched his career as a young volunteer assistant for Saint Mary's College.

Valenzuela is now back in Moraga, but with much more responsibility this time around.

He was hired last week as Saint Mary's new head baseball coach, replacing Jedd Soto, who resigned in June after 10 years on the job.

"I think it's a perfect fit, a great match," said Valenzuela, who was first with the Gaels from 2002-2003. "I definitely know what to expect."

The head coaching job is a first for Valenzuela. But he has 11 years of experience coaching college baseball between Saint Mary's, the University of San Diego and San Diego State. He also knows the West Coast Conference well having played at Pepperdine in addition to his coaching jobs at Saint Mary's and San Diego.

Most recently, Valenzuela served as San Diego State's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator under Gwynn, a San Diego Padres legend and 2007 inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"You learn a lot from a hall of fame legend, but the biggest part is just him as a human being," Valenzuela said of Gwynn. "He does things correct, he's a great person. That's the biggest thing I got out of it, just how he wanted his players to be (as people). He wanted his players to be role models in the community."


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Valenzuela also worked as University of San Diego's pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for six years. It was there where he recruited Griffin, who now in his second year in the Oakland A's starting rotation.

Matusz was also one of Valenzuela's protégés at San Diego, where he was the WCC Pitcher of the Year in 2008 before becoming the first pitcher selected (No. 4 overall pick) in the MLB draft.

Valenzula says he still talks both Griffin and Matusz on a weekly basis and works out with them in the offseason.

Reed, the White Sox closer, worked with Valenzuela while at SDSU.

At Saint Mary's, Valenzuela takes over a Gaels program that finished 21-34 overall and 11-13 in the WCC last season. But he's focused on the bigger picture, not reaching a specific number of victories.

"We're not going to talk about winning and championships, we're going to talk about developing our players and the process," Valenzuela said. "We're going to talk about being goal oriented and process oriented rather than results oriented."

The son of a boxing coach, Valenzuela knew in college that coaching was his calling. He's enthusiastic about returning to Moraga with his young family. Moving his six-year-old girl and twin three-year-old boys, finding a house and getting settled might be the hardest part.

"The fun part is once we start school," he said. "Then the development starts, and once we get to that point it's going to be great. As far as coaching, that's the fun part. That's what I look forward to."

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