It’s the Age of Valerius for the Senators | NevadaAppeal.com

It’s the Age of Valerius for the Senators

It’s the Age of Valerius for the Senators

BY MIKE HOUSER

Appeal Sports Writer

There was a time when a man’s name could embody majesty. Take the name Valerius, for instance.

To be known as Valerius – Latin for “very powerful man” during the age of Caesar’s Gallic Wars (58-51 B.C.) – once inspired an sense of awe in one’s contemporaries.

But the times and context have changed and a little over two thousand years later a young man who carries on a sublime name that once could’ve turned a mere land formation into a thing of mythology – say, Mount Valerius – must now carry the smile of humility and express forbearance for his somewhat boorish peers.

Especially if this individual is senior Rob Valerius, a pitcher and first baseman for the Carson Senators.

Valerius could only utter a sigh and a restrained, “Thanks, Sawyers,” when informed of the nickname his fellow pitcher and friend Stephen Sawyers shared of his 6-foot-3, 210-pound teammate. And no, it wasn’t “Mount Valerius.”

“I call him the ‘pop-up queen,'” Sawyers said irreverently of Valerius’ batting skills. “I’ve called him that the last four or five years. But [batting’s] not my forte, either. We’re both pitchers.”

Then there’s the little sobriquet shared by catcher Cody Bone and Senators head coach Steve Cook.

“We call him ‘Big Sloppy,'” Bone said. “He’s always got his shirt untucked. During games, his shirt was untucked the whole time – not as much this year, though.”

“When he’d pick up balls at first base, it wasn’t pretty,” Cook said of Valerius’ sartorial malfunction. “He was wearing about a size medium in his first year on the [summer league] Cardinals. Robbie tries very hard out there. We tried to teach him how to dive, he’d wear grass stains on his shoulders and knees. He didn’t know about the belly.”

For the record, Valerius’ jersey was a size or so too small and, to his credit, he doesn’t try and retaliate on his smack-talking teammates.

“He just laughs and takes it fine,” Bone said. “He’s a trooper.”

More than that, according to both Cook and CHS basketball coach Bruce Barnes – for whom he was a scrappy but undersized forward – Valerius is a coach’s dream.

“The best compliment I can give him is, the way he handles himself is the way you’d want your own child to handle himself,” Barnes said. “He’s a likeable kid, coachable and one of my favorite guys who have played for me.

“He’s one of those guys who aren’t overly vocal. He just goes about his business and leads by example.”

AN ALL-AROUND PLAYER…

In addition to having some good-natured fun at his expense, the Senators, now 5-4 in the Sierra League and 13-9 overall, have benefited from the soft-spoken, left-handed Valerius’ bat and ever-growing presence on the mound (he is 2-1 on the season).

According to pitching coach Scott Aldin, Valerius, who has been playing baseball since he was 10, has a big upside.

“He’s only going to get stronger as he gets older,” said Aldin, who pitched for the Nevada Wolf Pack (1994-99) before playing minor league ball after signing as an undrafted free agent with the Montreal Expos in 1999. “I haven’t had a [radar] gun on him, but I’ve been told he throws in the low 80s. He has good movement on his fastball – especially when his mechanics are working and he’s getting extension.

“His changeup is more swerve than curve. He had a 12-6 [curve] as a freshman, but he had no control. Now it’s more of a slider. Now he’s throwing it great. He’s finally got a grasp on the changeup.”

Aldin said with improved mechanics, Valerius’ fastball isn’t coming in as flat and his mound presence is “totally different” this year from last year because he’s more confident of his ability.

“He works really hard on the mound. He’s one of our most consistent pitchers,” Bone said. “He throws a lot of strikes. His curveball is better than last year – he’s throwing bit harder. He’s definitely stepped it up since last year.”

And in spite of some dugout humor, some names still carry a sense majesty. Take, for example, the one Aldin mentioned when talking of Valerius.

“He’s like [Atlanta Braves pitcher] Tom Glavine: He’s not going to throw a fastball by you, but he’ll make you lunge when he changes speeds. He tries to locate with the offspeed. That’s how he kept Reno in check for quite a few innings [in a complete-game effort, 5-3 loss on March 22].”

Cook said Valerius’ presence is also becoming more pronounced at the plate and on the bag at first.

“He’s a big kid. He has a little loop in his swing sometimes but, when he’s quick, he has

300-foot line drives,” Cook said. “He’s got some power. He came up known as a pitcher, but he’s turned into a good first baseman.”

…AND A SCHOLAR, TOO

While sports run in the Valerius family – father Doug and mother Linda were athletes and sister Samantha was all All-League and first-team selection as a defender for the CHS soccer team – it is a blend of academics and family bonding that have combined to shape the complete person that is Rob.

“They make it to everything. They’re into it more than me,” Valerius said of his parents, who have put some serious mileage on their car in supporting their son at his games. “They talk about the game with me hours after it’s over. I tell my mom, ‘I was there playing.’ I appreciate them being there for me.”

That kind of support has carried over into their children’s intellectual pursuits as well.

Samantha was the valedictorian of her graduating class in 2006 and now attends the University of Nevada, where she is pursuing a degree in business.

“She studies harder than me,” Valerius said. “I study what I need to. She goes above and beyond – that’s what my teachers say. I sort of follow in her shadow academically. I do the best I can do.”

Valerius, a Wendy’s High School Heisman nominee (each year, Wendy’s nominates seniors – one boy and one girl from each school – based on their athletic, academic and community/school involvement), carries a 3.8 GPA and said he may join his sister at Nevada.

Along with earning an academic letter every year, Valerius is a treasurer for the National Honor Society.

While keeping open some options – right now he is considering of whether to keep playing baseball for a junior college – Valerius said it’s got to fit in with his academic goals. For now, that means he’ll likely study business.

“I want to do something I love when I get older – and make money. That helps,” Valerius said. “I’m ready for the next step in life, no matter what it is. I want to make myself better, no matter which way I go.”

And perhaps someday, that will usher in the Age of Valerius.

• Contact Mike Houser at mhouser@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1214.