For Hilmar's Jacob Ahid, nothing has ever seemed impossible. Not even overcoming one of the most difficult obstacles that has come across his life so far — something that put his baseball future in jeopardy, or at least on pause: Tommy John surgery.
The need for a surgeon to replace a ligament in his medial elbow with a tendon from elsewhere in his body — a procedure developed by Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974 for pitcher Tommy John, may be common for professional league pitchers, but not something Ahid thought he would face.
“They used to call me rubber arm,” said Ahid of his pitching ability prior to the injury. “Before this surgery I never had any major injury or pain in my elbow, never. I mean, I never got hurt.”
In January 2015, just before Ahid's senior season as a Yellowjacket, he began to feel mild pain in his elbow after throwing.
“I felt pain I had never felt before and went to the doctor. But he said it was mild tendinitis, all of doctors said that and said to take a week or two off. So I took ibuprofen and threw my senior year,” said Ahid.
That year, pitching with an unknown injury, Ahid had his best year at Hilmar yet, and was arguably the most effective pitcher in the Stanislaus District.
He went 5-5 in 70 2/3 innings from the mound, with an ERA of 1.19 and tossed 9 complete games, captured two saves and struck out 126 while just allowing 12 earned runs and 15 walks. His batting average against was .170 and his on-base percentage against was .215.
The 6-foot-3, lefty-hauler also did damage from the box, batting .338 for the year with 15 RBI.
Alongside his stellar season, Ahid was being recruited and was offered scholarships from four Division I schools and a number of Division II colleges.
Many college coaches were highly interested in a lefty-pitcher who consistently threw in the mid to upper 80s, could toss an effective curveball, slider or changeup at any point during any at-bat, no matter the scenario.
Ahid chose to sign with Cal State Monterey Bay to play for head coach Walt White.
Everything seemed to be going well for Ahid after concluding his senior year, but the pain in his elbow began to reoccur well into summer ball just before leaving for CSUMB.
“When I was going to college, I was taking Advil and bio freeze every day, and had some troubles with my arm, but I didn't make a big deal of it because I never want to be taken out of a game,” said Ahid. “I just kept going until our first inner squad in October.”
That is when things took a drastic turn for the pragmatic Ahid.
“I knew I wasn't getting better,” he said. “I got a cortisone shot from a previous doctor and felt great for three weeks but then when I was warming up during inner squad, when I threw my third pitch, I felt the same pain I felt before and my brain knew this could not be happening but there was no denying it.”
Just four pitches in, Coach White told him to stop after seeing the agony in Ahid's throwing motion.
With his freshman year in jeopardy, the Otters were able to redshirt Ahid, giving him the ability to address his injury.
“A friend from Delta told me about his Tommy John surgery and recommend I see a doctor from San Francisco,” said Ahid.
That doctor was Kenneth Akizuki, who is also the San Francisco Giants' surgeon.
“The difference with him [Akizuki] to other doctors is he is so knowledgeable and other doctors were unsure because they don't want to upset you,” said Ahid. “But Akizuki knew what happened and was direct on getting surgery and broke it all down. He didn't tell me what I wanted to hear, he told me straight up.”
Star struck and with little time on the clock, Ahid saw Akizuki in mid November and by the end of the month, he was in for surgery.
“This guy is talking to all these pro athletes like nothing and still treated me like he truly cared,” said Ahid. “Initially I always try to stay positive and keep my hopes up, but since I was 4, I had never had a season without baseball. It was tough to deal with and I had trouble with it at first, but once I started to work out more and I really just thought this is an opportunity.”
That opportunity was to prove to himself and all doubters that he can recover and return better than ever.
“It was really tough trying to gain all my strength back,” said Ahid. “After my surgery I couldn't do anything for a good two weeks, then had a brace and started jogging a bit but couldn't really do much.”
About a month in, Ahid began physical therapy and is doing heavy athletic training six days a week at Venture Fitness. Now in late July, Ahid is back to throwing from the mound, as he hopes to return for the 2017 season and make a splash at CSUMB.
“I am starting to throw every day, but what happens in therapy is you work on things you never worked on before,” he said. “I never knew I had to loosen my shoulder blade or trunk stability or any of this stuff, I just went out and threw. So I am working to be more efficient to work on mechanics.
“It's going much better because I never expected to push myself this hard in a way,” he added. “I've never taken lifting this serious but this surgery really humbled me and motivated me to come back and be better than before —better than I've ever been. I want to prove something and I want to impress in a way.”