Ever since Johnny Aiello's torn elbow required Tommy John surgery before his senior high school season at Germantown Academy, the road to recovery has been quite the evolving process.
Aiello, now a seasoned third baseman as a sophomore at Wake Forest, is finally enjoying his first season without lingering soreness from the surgery done to repair his ulnar collateral ligament. He has a .329 batting average and 18 homers as the Demon Deacons prepare for the college baseball super regional series opener Saturday against Florida in Gainesville.
"By the time the fall of my freshman year was over, I started feeling good," Aiello said. "My elbow was still a little sore even this past summer. This past fall of my sophomore year was when it finally felt 100 percent. It was a long process."
The timing of Aiello's injury was unfortunate, given the former Patriots standout was pitching during final cuts of USA Baseball's under-18 team in August. Aiello, already having committed to Wake Forest, was coming off a junior season in which he batted .448 and earned Inquirer third-team all-Southeastern Pennsylvania honors.
Aiello's torn right elbow, and the surgery, put his senior season at Germantown Academy in peril. The Patriots' everyday shortstop and frequent pitcher was limited to serving as the team's designated hitter while slowly regaining strength in his right arm.
"I don't know, but it was pretty bad. I'll tell you that," Aiello said of his senior year batting average. "It definitely wasn't the same, and I was hitting pretty early after surgery. It's a pretty long recovery, but once you recover it doesn't really affect you at all."
With his stock falling because of the surgery and his commitment to play at Wake Forest, Aiello went undrafted out of Germantown Academy in 2015 and prepared for his freshman campaign in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound Lansdale native started 55 games at third base in his first year but batted just .226 and struck out in 39 percent of his at-bats. Up until last summer's stint with the Cape Cod League's Chatham Anglers, Aiello had been a switch-hitter. With guidance from his coaches, Aiello stopped batting from the left side and focused on the right side of the plate, where he carries more power.
"The biggest thing was pitch selection and having a good approach," Aiello said of his freshman year struggles. "Last year, I chased a lot of pitches out of the zone and was getting behind in counts. It's easier to not worry about having two different swings. It's not something I did in particular. It's really a testament to the people around me that have helped."
Almost three years later, Aiello's recovery from Tommy John has come full circle. The Deacons' third baseman ranks second among ACC hitters with his 18 homers, establishing himself in the middle of Wake's batting order with a potent slugging percentage of .636 - 41st in the nation.
Aiello and 14th-ranked Wake Forest are not intimidated by this weekend's best-of-three series with No. 4 Florida. The Deacons have defeated both Florida State and Miami twice on the road, and beginning Saturday they will be hunting the Florida trifecta against the Gators and a berth in the College World Series.
"We feel like it's a good challenge for us," Aiello said. "But at the same time, we're ready to go. We think we're the more talented team, not being cocky. That's the way we see it and the kind of confidence we have. We're not fearful at all. We're excited. This is what we've been waiting for the whole year.
"It's something I've always looked at when I was little and dreamed about. It's pretty awesome we're just a couple wins away."