Louis Aquila never got the chance to perform at full strength at the varsity level for Sierra's baseball team, and it wasn't because of the pandemic.
His senior season was already derailed by an injury to his pitching arm, leading to Tommy John Surgery. In 2019, he only got to pitch two innings because of a balky back stemming from a car accident. The aches persisted despite multiple chiropractic adjustments, and yet Aquila — who missed five games last year — still managed to stand out as a hitter and third baseman.
It is on the pitcher's mound where he feels most at home, however, and he'll have to wait another year to show off his ace stuff.
“It's upsetting that I couldn't play my senior year,” he said. “For everyone else, their season was ended by the coronavirus but I pretty much found out before the pandemic.
“I feel like I could have been dominant at the varsity level,” Aquila added. “I just never got the chance to find out.”
Aquila hasn't picked up a baseball since Nov. 2, 2019. That was when he participated in a Perfect Game Showcase event in Los Angeles. Scouts there graded him an 8 out of 10 based on the “Perfect Game Player Rating System,” deeming the strapping 6-foot-1, 225-pound hurler a “potential draft pick and/or excellent college prospect.”
He only threw nine pitches but got the most out of his short appearance, striking out two and inducing a weak popup his first and only inning.
“My arm was just hanging while I was down in L.A. and I topped out at 86 (miles per hour),” Aquila said. “I feel like if I'm at full strength I could be in the low 90s.”
Aquila said his right arm was already hurting going into the event and knew he was done after that ninth pitch. He can feel his arm swelling en route to a hospital where he received an magnetic resonance imaging scan.
The dreaded diagnosis: ulnar collateral ligament tear.
Aquila believes it wasn't overuse that did it, but rather improper throwing mechanics in his younger years.
“Growing up, I was just using my arm and throwing across my body,” he said. “The last couple years I started training myself to use my body more and and throw over the top. It was just too much at that point. The ligament was already damaged and there as no going back.”
Aquila did not need Tommy John Surgery to function in everyday life, but to him baseball is life. And while he enjoys and excels in other aspects of the game, the game is not the same if he can't pitch.
“I can still play third base and concentrate on that and hitting, but I grew up pitching,” he said. “It's just something I've always loved doing. Standing on the mound and being in charge, that is a great feeling. It would be hard not to be able to pitch anymore.”
The surgery was scheduled for March 30 but postponed because of the state's shelter-in-place order. The procedure was completed last Thursday, May 21 and next Wednesday the stitches will be removed. He can began rehabbing soon after.
“I'd rather have this surgery now than later in college,” Aquila said. “This can be a good thing. A lot of people have the surgery and come back throwing even harder than before. Some guys have the surgery even though they don't even need it.”
Aquila had as many as four scholarship offers, two of them nearly covering 100 percent of tuition costs. One remains on the table, but considering the time it will take for him to return to form he has decided to enroll at Modesto Junior College and gray shirt for a year. He is in constant contact with MJC pitching coach Nathan Gregory, former head coach at Oakdale High.
Aquila has many interests outside of baseball. In fact, he was offered a tryout for a professional paintball team as an early teen. An outdoorsman, he's looking into majoring in criminal justice with a minor in biology, perhaps to work with the Department of Fish & Game. He also has a passion for cars and may consider becoming a mechanic.
Baseball, though, has always been his No. 1.
A top player throughout his youth with Northgate and Spreckels Park Little Leagues, Aquila advanced out of the local stages of the MLB Pitch, Hit and Run competition as a 10-year-old. Two years later, he was part of the Manteca Baseball Club's 12-and-under team that competed in the Cooperstown Reams Park and American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament in New York, which remains one of his favorite memories in the sport.
“That had to be one of the best weeks ever,” he said. “I started batting seventh in the lineup that week and ended up batting third or fourth.”
On the first pitch he saw, Aquila hit the first of his two grand slams and four home runs of the week. He batted 14 for 16, had a walk-off homer and pitched a no-hitter.
He continued to shine in the travel-ball circuit with Oakwood Prep and in the lower levels of high school ball. In his sophomore year, Aquila boasted a 9-0 record, 0.12 ERA and gave up one earned run in 58 innings for Sierra's 18-5 junior varsity team. He was called up to the varsity club for its postseason run.
Last year, Aquila was named to the All-Valley Oak League first team, leading the Timberwolves with a .381 batting average and 17 RBIs. His lone appearance on the mound helped Sierra lock down a crucial 5-3 win over rival Manteca. He struck out two in two hitless innings for the save, and the T'wolves went on to finish 12-0 for the league title and 21-4-1 overall.
“I grew up with all of those guys,” Aquila said of his Sierra teammates. “They're all great guys who don't play selfishly, they play for each other. I don't remember any dull moments with them. We loved each other like brothers and that's what made that team special to me.
“Not having a senior to play is sad, but life happens and this is not the end of my career,” Aquila added. “Nothing is guaranteed, but I believe God has a plan for all of us and this is just something I'll have to get through. My hope to is to keep playing in college and maybe after.”