Last August, on the next-to-last day of the tryouts for USA Baseball's under-18 national team in Houston, John Aiello's brief pitching stint abruptly went bad.
"I threw a curveball and, basically, my elbow popped out," the Germantown Academy standout said.
Tests revealed a tear to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, an injury that required Tommy John surgery. It was performed a month later by Phillies physician Michael Ciccotti at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.
With his arm still on the mend, Aiello, usually an everyday shortstop and occasional hurler, is limited to being a designated hitter for the Patriots this season.
"I started some light throwing four months after the surgery," the 6-foot-2, 200-pound senior said. "Right now, I can do a 120-foot long toss. In a couple of weeks, that can be bumped up to 150 feet, and then 180. Usually, you're good to go within a year."
A switch-hitter who is ticketed for Wake Forest, Aiello last season batted .448 with 18 runs and 17 RBIs while earning Inquirer third-team all-Southeastern Pennsylvania honors.
"He's very good at consistently making contact and driving the ball," said GA interim coach Joe O'Hara, whose squad downed Peddie School (N.J.), 7-2, in a nonleague contest Thursday afternoon.
Despite being unable to play shortstop or pitch, Aiello remains upbeat. "I'm just thankful that my recovery is going well and I can at least hit," he said. "I'm focused on playing hard and hustling. Good results will come from that."
The 18-year-old from Lansdale displayed all of his abilities last summer while participating in showcase events across the country, including the prestigious Area Code Games in Long Beach, Calif., and Perfect Game All-American Classic in San Diego.
"That was awesome, to have the opportunity to play with and against some of the top high school players in the country," he said. "The competition makes you better and also exposes your weaknesses. It shows you in what areas you need to improve."
Aiello honed his skills while playing for the Montgomery Township Spartans. His father, Rich, served as coach and, as he still does today, batting-practice thrower. "He's one of the big reasons why I'm halfway decent," John Aiello said with a laugh.
At 13, Aiello began playing for the Tri-State Arsenal. A teammate on last summer's squad was close friend and Penn State recruit Willie Burger, a hard-hitting infielder for Florida's IMG Academy who formerly played at Lancaster Catholic.
In addition to Aiello, GA's bid to claim its first Inter-Ac League title since 2006 is headed by catcher Ryan Calhoun, pitchers Ryan DeWalt and Emmett Harkins, second baseman Vinny Capone, shortstop Max Schwartz, and third baseman Ben Werkheiser.
"We're excited about this season," said Aiello, who was a member of USA Baseball's 15- and 14-and-under teams. "We have the pitching to compete with any team. A lot is going to depend on our hitting."