Finding a way

Dragon’s pitcher Aaron Fossas makes a comeback

By Marc Katz

Over the last two years, everything has gone wrong for Aaron Fossas in baseball.

Now, everything is going right.

It’s going to be a race to see where the story ends, and we should know that in about another two years.

This does not happen in most other professions. You learn to be a doctor or lawyer or salesman or plumber or electrician or teacher over a period of years. With luck, you stay in that profession over a working lifetime.

In sports, it’s different. Past high school or college, the window of opportunity is small. The NFL held its draft recently, and not even everyone picked in the first round is going to make it. At 21, 22, or 23 years of age, oversized athletes are going to have to find something else to do—competing against others with a head start.

Fossas is already 24, has never been drafted by a major league organization, is coming off Tommy John surgery, and had an IT job in hand when his dream suddenly came back to him.

His dream was to play baseball, and he has a good mentor for not giving up on dreams. His uncle, Tony Fossas, the Reds’ minor league pitching coordinator, did not make it to the major leagues until he was 30, after several organizations released him.

Aaron Fossas was signed by the Reds out of Wake Forest University following last summer’s draft and assigned to the rookie Arizona League Reds.

He went 2-0 with a 2.55 ERA and was invited to spring training in March. He made the Class A Dragons. “This is a dream,” Fossas says recently, just outside the Fifth Third Field clubhouse. “I had a good year in Arizona. My arm was strong. I was told to show up and win a job somewhere.”

Tony Fossas and his younger brother Misael (Aaron’s father) arrived in the United States from Cuba in about 1970, on a boat with their family, who then, as now, stressed education.

When Tony became infatuated with baseball and became good enough to turn pro, he was not allowed to sign until he obtained a college degree.

Aaron had the same experience in his home.

“My priority might have been baseball,” Aaron Fossas says. “But in my house, it was school.”

After high school in the Boston area, Aaron decided to go to Wake Forest, where he tried to make the team as a shortstop/second baseman, only to find his hitting lacking.

With a strong arm, he red-shirted a year to learn the art of pitching, which he did for the Demon Deacons two years, the second as a closer.

In the fall of his senior season, Fossas began to feel tingling in the index and pinky fingers of his right hand. It was traced to his elbow, necessitating surgery, but not full Tommy John.

He started to pitch again through the pain, thinking it was just scar tissue. Another MRI was done, and a 90 percent tear was found in his elbow.

“It was heartbreaking,” Fossas says. “At that point, I thought my baseball career was done.”

But it wasn’t. Wake offered him a fifth year of eligibility, but Fossas’ elbow wasn’t fully healed. “I was throwing 83 mph. I couldn’t throw strikes. My arm hurt. In my mind, I was one of the 15 percent that wasn’t going to come back from Tommy John.”

Fossas used the extra year off to earn a masters degree in business management.

He sat most of the season, then in a regional game at Texas A&M—the penultimate game of the season—his coach put him in. A&M was winning big.

“Aaron, you’re a red-shirt senior, a two-time captain,” the coach says. “We’re down. Here’s your final hurrah.”

He didn’t pitch particularly well, but he noticed something few others in the stadium did. His elbow didn’t hurt. He could also pump his velocity to over 90 mph.

“It was like a flipped switch in my elbow,” Fossas says. “I was pursuing another job, but I wanted to wait a second. Maybe there was something left in my elbow. Maybe I could find a way to keep pitching.”

He called the company that was going to employ him and told his story. The company was gracious in letting him go.

He was signed by the Reds after the draft and told to make a team, if he could. He not only made the Dragons, but in his first six appearances, he didn’t allow a run. He recorded a win and a save.

Now all the scouts are checking their notes to see if Fossas’ early pro success is sustainable, or if they were correct all along: that he doesn’t have what it takes.

“My goal is to keep it as simple as possible,” Fossas says. “I want to throw three balls over the plate. I’m confident enough. I got a lot of those guys out [in college].”

We all have dreams, don’t we?

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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