Saint Mary's head coach Eric Valenzuela will enter his fifth season as the Gaels' skipper in the spring of 2018. He is the 12th head coach of the program after being announced as the head coach on July 31, 2013.
Valenzuela has engineered a remarkable turnaround of the Saint Mary's baseball program in just his first four years, turning SMC into an annual contender after it posted just three .500-or-better seasons in the 22 years before his arrival. In 2016 and '17, he led the Gaels to consecutive postseason appearances -- the first in program history -- while grabbing their first-ever West Coast Conference regular season title, WCC Tournament title and NCAA Regional appearance in 2016. He guided the team to back-to-back 30-win seasons in '16 (33) and '17 (38) for the first time in 26 years (1990-91).
During Valenzuela's time at Saint Mary's, eight Gaels have been selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, including five in the top-10 rounds. He has coached three All-Americans (Corbin Burnes, Zach Kirtley [Frosh] and Kevin Milam [Frosh]) and seven all-WCC first team players. The Gaels have collected 22 total all-WCC awards under Valenzuela, including four second team honors, six honorable mention accolades and five WCC All-Freshmen team honorees. SMC players have also garnered 21 total WCC All-Academic awards, including nine first team honors and 12 honorable mention recognitions.
2017 was yet another successful campaign after a historic 2016 season. The Gaels won 38 games -- their most since a program-record 41 wins in 1977. Saint Mary's earned big victories over big names, including beating then-No. 10 Washington twice, traveling to 2014 NCAA champion Vanderbilt and beating them on their own field, beating 2016 College World Series participant UC Santa Barbara twice, and dominating then-No. 13 Cal State Fullerton, 12-4, on the road. The Gaels qualified for their second straight WCC Tournament and finished with eight players earning all-WCC awards, including Milam being named the 2017 WCC Freshman of the Year.
Saint Mary's earned an appearance in the 2016 NCAA Tournament at the Raleigh Regional, hosted by N.C. State, after winning the WCC regular season and tournament titles. Valenzuela was named the 2016 WCC Coach of the Year after leading the Gaels to series victories in eight of nine WCC series, as well as wins over five eventual NCAA Tournament teams. Saint Mary's had an All-American (Corbin Burnes) and six all-WCC players in 2016, including three first team honorees. Four players were drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft, matching the most in program history. It was the first time four SMC players went in the top-20 rounds, with three going in the top-10 for the first time since 2012.
The success came in just three years after arriving on campus in 2013. After a 16-39 first season in 2014, Valenzuela lifted the Gaels to their first back-to-back .500-or-better seasons in seven years with a 28-27 record in 2015 and a 33-25 mark in 2016. The work behind the scenes began to pay off in 2015 as, in only his second season, Valenzuela led the Gaels to a 28-27 record and their first winning season since 2009. A series win at San Diego State on the last weekend of the regular season clinched the winning campaign, only the third for Saint Mary's since 1991, but it was a hot start that really got the Gaels going as they went 17-8 to begin the year in the program's best 25-game opening stretch since 1977.
Valenzuela returned to Moraga for his first head coaching job in the same place that his coaching career started. He served two seasons as an assistant at Saint Mary's from 2002-03, and filled a variety of roles for head coach John Baptista. While at Saint Mary's he coached third base, managed team recruiting efforts, directed the team's strength and conditioning program and coordinated the team's youth camps and clinics.
After leaving Saint Mary's, Valenzuela has gone on to become one of the nation's premier assistant coaches, both on and off the field.
For the four seasons before becoming SMC's head coach, Valenzuela served as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for head coach Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. As an Aztec, Valenzuela has compiled two recruiting classes (2010 and 2011) ranked in the Top 25 nationally by Baseball America. In 2013, his San Diego State pitching staff led the Mountain West Conference in numerous statistical categories, helping the Aztecs to their first MWC Tournament title since 2000 and their first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. Also in 2013, the program reached its highest team grade point average ever, and 16 players earned distinction as scholar athletes.
Before joining Gwynn at San Diego State, Valenzuela spent six seasons across town as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of San Diego. During his tenure, he helped the Toreros reach the NCAA Tournament three times, win two West Coast Conference regular season championships and earn a program-best 44 wins in 2008.
At San Diego, his strength as a recruiter also began to take shape. The Toreros' 2006 class was ranked in Baseball America's Dandy Dozen, and the publication ranked the 2007 class as the No. 1 incoming group in the nation. Valenzuela also showed his ability to develop pitching, as three of his hurlers earned All-American status in 2007-08 and Brian Matusz was named WCC Pitcher of the Year in 2008 before he was drafted No.4 overall in the MLB first-year player draft. Three of Valenzuela's pitchers (Matusz, Josh Romanski and A.J. Griffin) were named to Team USA.
A native of Covina, Calif., Valenzuela was an All-American performer at Bishop Amat High School. He would begin his collegiate career at Arizona State, and was a member of the Sun Devils' 1998 team that reached the College World Series. He eventually transferred to Pepperdine, and in 2001 served as a team captain as the Waves went 42-18 and won the WCC title. Valenzuela graduated from Pepperdine in 2001 with a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice.
Valenzuela comes from an athletic family, as his father, Victor, was an assistant boxing coach for the United States in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He continues to train boxers at the Duarte Boxing Club in Duarte, Calif. Valenzuela's sister, Nichole, was also an accomplished softball player at San Diego from 2005-08. Valenzuela and his wife Betty have three children, daughter Catalina Esmie and twin sons Benjamin Evan and Noah Matthew.