FAIRFIELD — Nothing against presents, carols and all the other fa-la-la, but Anthony Arias couldn’t wait for Christmas to come and go.
He just wanted Jan. 9 to get here.
That was the first day Arias could throw a baseball, exactly six months after having Tommy John surgery to replace a torn ligament in the elbow of his pitching arm.
And it’s no ordinary left arm. Arias helped pitch the Fairfield Expos American Legion baseball team to the California state title in the summer of 2012. And after signing a letter intent to play for Fresno State, he threw the first five innings of a combined no-hitter for Fairfield High just 26 days before his elbow injury.
“I was excited for it to be six months,” Arias said last week before heading back to Fresno for the resumption of classes and baseball practice. “At the start of Christmas break I wasn’t thinking about Christmas, I wasn’t thinking about presents. I was thinking about throwing.
“I was excited because I’ve played baseball all my life. Being there having to sit on the bench when everybody else was playing wasn’t fun. It made me realize I had to be a teammate.”
There were other lessons to be learned through the process, which actually began when he was a Little Leaguer with Fairfield Atlantic.
His left arm began showing signs of stress and he was told to essentially shut it down for a season.
“My 11-year-old year I played right handed to rest my left arm,” Arias said. “I fixed it. I came back playing with no problems, no pain. I came up with (arm problems) again. It came back with a fight.”
Arias pitched a three-hitter against Armijo, striking out 16 batters and throwing 113 pitches in his second start of the season. He made five other appearances with pitch counts between 81 and 97 before something went wrong with two outs in his fifth inning of work against Solano County Athletic Conference favorite Benicia on April 16.
“I felt little pains inside (the elbow) before,” Arias said. “I thought nothing of it before. I threw those five innings. I threw a fastball and felt a sharp pain in my elbow. It was weird. I felt like I could hear nothing around me. I zoned in on the pain.”
Indeed, Arias’ elbow woes had come back “with a fight.”
“The doctor said it was long-term being messed up, a long-term injury,” Arias said. “I had to learn to move on with life with it.”
The injury kept Arias from pitching but not from playing for the Falcons. He got into 25 games, mostly as a DH, third-most on the team, and batted .286, finishing second with 15 RBIs.
As Arias went in for surgery on July 9, his mind was filled with questions, some of which will take years to be answered.
“When I went in I was thinking, ‘Is my arm ever going to be the same? Am I ever going to throw again?’ I thought a lot of things,” Arias said. “Am I going to be able to throw as hard as before? How long will it take? Is it going to affect my long-term goals and dreams of being an athlete?”
Arias had a cast on his arm for a week and wore a brace that limited the movement of his elbow for several more weeks.
Once he got to Fresno, “I’d do small little drills to let me stretch my arm out more and more,” Arias said. He was also able to work out with the team, but only on a limited basis. He also worked on rebuilding the muscle on the arm, which had atrophied from lack of use while he was mending.
“I was either chasing foul balls or running when the team would be doing things,” Arias said. “I was running when the team was throwing. I wouldn’t say it was boring. When they were doing fundamentals I’d do fundamentals, but when it came to the throwing part, I kept my arm down.”
He finally got to pick up a baseball and throw it in the yard of his family’s home on Jan. 9, essentially unwrapping a late Christmas present.
“I had no pain. It was more excitement and joy to actually throw,” he said. “It seems like a couple of weeks ago I was looking down at my arm with a lot of muscle atrophy. I was thinking I can’t believe the muscle’s gone.”
Now that he’s back with the team working out – and able to throw – he’s unsure of his status with the Bulldogs for the 2014 season.
“It’s one of those things, I feel I should redshirt,” Arias said. “They haven’t told me anything. I feel I should get a strong as I can. They can’t control the outcome, but they’ve given me the tools to succeed. I need time to heal. I don’t feel I should rush things and this year not think so much about playing, think about getting stronger, being a better team player.”
He figures there are other benefits from sitting out a year, many of them to do with his head.
“I can get a head start in school. There’s a lot of things I’ve thought about,” Arias said. “I’m looking at this as not something that’s messed up my life. It was meant to happen. Things happen for a reason. It’s an opportunity to get stronger, get started in school.”
Whether on not Arias plays in 2014, teammate Trent Woodward, a redshirt junior catcher from Chino Hills who’s also had Tommy John surgery, has helped him get over some of the hurdles.
“It’s been a journey. The catcher over at Fresno State (Woodward) has been kind of my older brother, like a mentor to me, getting me through this,” Arias said. “He told me Tommy John (surgery) is a marathon, but that doesn’t mean you can’t sprint the marathon.”
Since Jan. 9, Arias has certainly picked up the pace
Reach Paul Farmer at 425-4646, ext. 264, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pfarmerdr.