When Jake Lialios PO ’20 stepped onto the baseball field this August, he wasn’t surrounded by the familiar orange and blue jerseys of the Pomona-Pitzer baseball team — but by the green and yellow kits of his hometown’s professional team, the Tucson Saguaros of the Pecos League.
And instead of settling in behind home plate, Lialios replaced his usual catcher’s gear with a simple cap and glove, lightening up for his new position as pitcher for the Saguaros.
Three months ago, this scenario — even just playing ball — was unthinkable. Lialios’ preparations to play baseball overseas as a catcher in Sweden were spoiled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over quarantine, he got into contact with a longtime coach and family friend, Blake Eager, to add a pitching element to his game.
“We met up a couple times to throw some bullpens and work on pitching mechanics to hopefully have an extra tool when I try out for a team,” Lialios said.
These efforts proved to be instrumental in the continuation of his baseball career. The Saguaros’ manager extended him an invitation for a tryout as a two-way player — a player who pitches while playing an alternate position. With a large number of players vying for a spot on a team still playing during the pandemic, the odds were stacked against him.
Following the tryouts, Lialios said the Saguaros wanted him to officially be a Saguaros pitcher. However, not having pitched since his Little League days, growing into the position brought Lialios some growing pains.
“Being a recently converted pitcher was tough for me because my arm just had never been through that type of abuse before,” Lialios said. “I was just trying to survive the season because I was doing so much arm care and recovery [to] not have my arm feel terrible when I go out there.”
Lialios said he underwent major struggles assimilating to his new position.
“The first couple weeks of the season were kind of tough, [as] it was harder to have command of the strike zone and off-speed pitches that I just barely learned,” Lialios said. “I had a bit of trouble with walks and being too fine with approaching batters, but [after] a couple outings, I felt like I kind of was getting the hang of it.”
Lialios also wrestled with the newness of the professional level due to what he called the “manager-player” relationship. Unlike college ball, where the student-mentor aspect is more emphasized, Lialios said, the professional coaches are very “numbers-oriented,” result-oriented and not as focused on player development.
“You’re just in the heat of it right away,” he said.
“You’re just in the heat of it right away” – Jake Lialios ’20.
Despite the hardships, Lialios earned Pitcher of the Month honors this past August in the Pecos League, striking out 24 batters and averaging a 1.72 earned run average in three appearances. For the entire season, he displayed a 3-0 spotless record while pitching for 29 and one-third innings.
But with accomplishments already piling up, Lialios is humble. Failure, not success, is what defines the sport for him.
“You hear how people say, ‘If you bat .300, you’re in the Hall of Fame,’ but that’s failing seven out of 10 times,” Lialios said. “There’s a lot of failure involved in it, and it’s a humbling sport. It teaches you how to deal with adversity and appreciate the successes more. That’s something that has been pretty important in terms of just taking on everyday challenges.”
Ultimately, the goal for Lialios has always been to play in a league affiliated with Major League Baseball. Although Lialios said this is “probably not super likely,” he simply desires to keep playing baseball for as long as his body will allow him to.
“Honestly, I have got a lot more out of my baseball career this past season than I think I ever realistically expected to,” Lialios said. “It would be really cool if I could ever play some sort of affiliated Major League Baseball … but I want to keep playing as long as [my body will] let me, you know.”
Current P-P head baseball coach Frank Pericolosi also commented on Lialios’ tenure in the program. He said Lialios was the ultimate teammate, carrying himself “like a true professional” and working hard whenever called upon.
“Jake is going to be successful in whatever he does,” Pericolosi said. “He’s a great person, a hard worker, unselfish and leads by example.”