It’s been a two-year odyssey toward recovery for former Memorial High School baseball standout Steven Acosta.
Acosta signed a national letter of intent to attend Stony Brook and play baseball there nearly three years ago, but soon ran into problems when he tore a ligament in his right pitching elbow, forcing him to undergo elbow reconstruction surgery, also known as Tommy John surgery, keeping him on the sidelines for more than a year.
Well, it got worse for Acosta before it got better.
While still rehabilitating the first elbow surgery, Acosta suffered a second elbow injury, called a ulnar nerve transposition, forcing him to miss an additional four months of time, enduring another major surgical procedure.
The ulnar nerve transposition is performed to move the major elbow nerve to a more suitable position where it is not exposed to any irritation or pinched caused by the bone.
The question remained: Does any baseball player, in particular a pitcher, recover after having two major surgeries and recover enough to be a competitive pitcher once again?
“It’s been done before,” Acosta said. “As long as you stay committed to work at it and put the work in, it can be done. I’m just figuring things out, going through a second elbow operation.”
With that in mind, Acosta, now 21 years old, has decided to opt out of his scholarship with Stony Brook and has enrolled at Rutgers University in New Brunswick with his eye on making the Scarlet Knights’ fall baseball roster.
“It’s not if I make the team at Rutgers, but when I make the team,” Acosta said. “I don’t want to put the word ‘if’ inside my head. I’ve never been hungrier for something in my life. I’ve never lost hope in myself. I’m excited for the chance.”
Acosta enrolled in the business school at Rutgers.
“It’s a great academic school and that’s the primary goal,” Acosta said. “Two months ago, I reached out to the coach [Joe Litterio] and told him about my plan. He was very straightforward with me and told me that he was going to give me the chance to prove myself. Nothing was going to be set in stone. I just wanted to start fresh. I didn’t want to be known as the guy who was injury prone. The goal was to get the chance to play again.”
So Acosta started working his way back toward college baseball. After being away for the equivalent of two full years, it was going to be a tough grind.
Acosta started to feel better about his arm strength.
“I was reaching 87-to-89 [miles per hour on a Juggs’ gun], so that was a good sign,” Acosta said. “I know I can throw harder. My velocity is not an issue. It’s just getting control of all of my pitches. It’s more of a medical issue, whether I can handle it. But in my heart, I always knew I could do it.”
Acosta received his chance to pitch competitively again for the Westhampton Aviators of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League. Although the season was winding down toward the HCBL playoffs, Acosta wanted to prove that he could take the mound and be a force.
Acosta pitched in relief for a total of three games for the Aviators, pitching a total of 6 1/3 innings. He allowed just four hits and struck out eight, winning one game and posting a 2.84 earned run average. Acosta was named the HCBL Player of the Week for the final week of the season.
“Hopefully, God willing, I’ll be on the [Rutgers] roster in the fall,” Acosta said. “My arm feels good. I still have two years of eligibility left. I feel like I have one more run at it. I feel like I can pitch at any level. It feels great to be out there competing again, coming at hitters. I still love the game. I just wanted to get one more shot.”…
Another local baseball standout, Tino Salgado of Hudson Catholic, has given the University of Rhode Island a verbal commitment that he will sign a national letter of intent to attend the school in the fall of 2019. Salgado is a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree as a second baseman. He will sign his letter with URI during the early signing period in October…
Two former local football standouts, namely Syheim Simmons of Hudson Catholic and K.J. Gray of St. Peter’s Prep, were among the six players dismissed from the Rutgers University football program after their alleged involvement in a stolen credit card operation at the school. It’s a shame because both Simmons and Gray might have seen considerable playing time for the Scarlet Knights this fall. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.