HYANNIS – Aaron Cole entered his junior baseball season at St. John Paul II unsure of his role. He could pitch, but the Lions had several other potential starting pitchers, and he could also play in the infield and outfield.
Cole quickly emerged as a leader last spring, no matter where he played. He ended up as the Lions’ captain, leadoff hitter and ace of the pitching rotation, proving critical in their run to a Division 4 South Sectional championship.
“He led by example, but he also knew how to pick guys up when they needed it,” Lions coach Chris Russell said. “He really stepped up right from the get-go. His intensity, his competitive nature, a hard worker — one of the hardest workers I’ve been around.”
Cole grew up with baseball in his life. His father, Russ, is the pitching coach at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, and Cole cited both Russ and former MMA head coach Bob Corradi as big influences on his early development.
“He’s always been there to either throw or pitch to me,” Cole said of his father. “He’s constantly trying to make me a better player every day. He looks up videos to compare me to them, and then sending me stuff every day to get my motivation going.”
Cole got his start in baseball as a 4-year-old. He went on to play for Sandwich Little League and Team Mizuno Northeast, an Amateur Athletic Union club program.
“My first year playing travel ball for Team Mizuno, we won the 10-and-under division of the NEBL (New England Elite Baseball League),” Cole said. “I was the winning pitcher in that game, and then the following week I played in the All-Star Game up in New Hampshire. I hit a walkoff double to win that game and was named Most Valuable Player.”
Cole attended Sandwich’s STEM Academy for seventh and eighth grade, then transferred to JPII as a freshman. He immediately made an impact in his first season as a starting outfielder and relief pitcher behind senior ace Devan Harrison.
“I was looking to switch high schools, and during the summer I actually met (former JPII baseball coach Mark) Santos, and he told me a lot about the school,” Cole said. “It’s definitely the best decision I’ve made, going there.”
Their 2019 postseason run, which ended in the state semifinals, saw the Lions come back from sixth-inning deficits in each of their first four games. That included a South quarterfinal game against Archbishop Williams, the defending state champions, in which the Lions scored six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 7-6 walkoff win.
“That was the biggest game I’ve ever been in,” Cole said. “We knew that we had it in us to come back, and we just believed in one another.”
Cole drew a bases-loaded walk to win the game and also pitched all seven innings, striking out seven. His efforts across five playoff games earned him Most Valuable Player honors from the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Association.
“He wanted to go after everyone because he figured that he could get everyone out,” Russell said. “That’s what you want from a staff ace.”
Cole described himself as always focused on game management. He’s comfortable throwing a fastball, change-up, slider and curveball, and said he always tries to recall previous at-bats whenever he faces a batter.
“I like controlling the game,” Cole said. “I like to have my mindset of how I want the game to go, and just pitch to it.”
“The summer going into my junior year, that was the first year that I was (soccer) captain, I was thinking about changing over to football, but it didn’t make sense at that time,” Cole said. “I’ve gone to football workouts during the summer just to stay in shape and lift, and this year with my head coach leaving, the coach I’ve had for three years, I just felt as though it was a good time.”
Cole, a two-time Cape & Islands League All-Star in baseball, hopes he’ll continue playing multiple positions in college. He signed with Division III Western New England University in Springfield earlier this month, where he said he plans to study business and sports management.
“They reached out to me after one of my pitching performances against Abington (last spring),” Cole said. “In September, after having an overnight and staying for one of their practices, I just felt it was the right decision.”
Cole has never been one to rest on past successes. He immediately went from his spring season with the Lions to a summer of American Legion ball with Sandwich Post 188, which won a District 10 title and advanced to the state tournament.
“He was excellent off the mound all summer, but when he had his chances to get into the lineup, he did a really nice job,” Post 188 coach Brian Tomasini said. “More than anything, he was an awesome kid.”
How much that offseason training will benefit Cole remains unclear. Schools are closed until May 4 to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, and the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association will meet Monday to decide whether there will be a shortened spring season and postseason, no postseason, or no spring sports at all.
For now, all Cole can do is wait and hope.
“From a baseball standpoint it’s tough, because none of us can really go out and do anything, so we’re all cooped up inside, and we don’t really know what’s going to happen,” Cole said. “I’ve been working out with my dad. We have a weight room in my basement, and then every day we’re going outside and throwing.”