TEANECK, N.J.– Anthony Apreda of Teaneck got cold feet on his first day of classes at Gateway Community College in Arizona.
He was some 2,400-plus miles from home, hoping to further his education while becoming the Gecko's ace pitcher.
But he panicked and drove back to Bergen County an admittedly immature young man.
After stops at junior colleges in New Jersey, Alabama, and Maryland , Apreda's life has come full circle: the former Bergen Catholic right-hander will return to the Grand Canyon State while chasing his dream of playing professional baseball.
The 5-foot-9, 200-pound pitcher recently committed to Benedictine University in Mesa, Ariz., which will be fielding its first-ever baseball team coached by 14-year MLB catcher Kelly Stinnett.
“It’s all about the hustle and the grind," Apreda, 20, told Daily Voice. “The driving, the trying to stay focused...going from place to place trying to impress a new coach, having to earn a starting spot every year, which I've been able to do.”
The cross-country journey almost didn't happen after two injuries nearly ended Apreda's playing career.
The first time was opening day his sophomore year at BC. He tossed a third-inning curveball and tore his elbow, leading to Tommy John surgery and a 14-month rehab.
It was like deja vu all over again – as Yogi Berra famously said – when Apreda was a freshman at Wallace Community College in Alabama.
"Everything seemed to be clicking. I was throwing really hard, said Apreda, whose pitches topped out at 92 miles per hour.
There were professional and college scouts in attendance, and this was his time to make an impression.
But then there was the tingling sensation. Then agonizing pain. "I couldn't feel my hand," he said.
This time it was the ulnar nerve, which wrapped itself in the scar tissue from his previous injury.
“I was distraught," Apreda said. "I thought, 'What am I supposed to do?' I had days where I felt good, and days where I felt like I had nothing.
"You wonder if it's time to hang it up.”
During his yearlong rehab he considering becoming a police officer, like his brother, Phil, Jr. But his competitive drive and love of baseball – which he got from his dad, Phil, Sr., who died of lymphoma in 2007 – wouldn't allow him to leave the game behind.
"I'm a fighter, just like my father," Apreda said. "And just like he used to say, 'It's never over,' I went one more round when I didn't think I could."