James Avecilla’s love for baseball began in a pretty typical way. As a young boy, he and his father would go in the backyard and play wiffle ball.
With his dad, Michael, pitching, Avecilla would grab the bat, get ready to take a hack and, like many kids, pretended he was his favorite Major League Baseball player. For Avecilla, that was former Los Angeles Dodger Yasiel Puig.
Now, as a senior at Bret Harte High School, Avecilla doesn’t need to pretend to be a good baseball player; he is one. Avecilla just began his final season as a Bullfrog and the four-year varsity starter isn’t letting the pressure of trying to bring his team back to the playoffs for the first time since his freshman year take away from his overall love of the game.
“There’s a little bit of pressure, but I’m just here to have fun,” Avecilla said. “We are all here to have fun and to have a good time. Obviously, we want to be competitive, but we just want to play well and show off a little bit.”
Since the 2017 season, Avecilla has been a varsity player, spending much of his time behind the dish as catcher. And during that stretch, his father has been his head coach. When Michael accepted the job as Bret Harte’s skipper, he knew from years of watching his son that Avecilla was good enough to play with the big club. However, Bret Harte already had a senior catcher in Joey Craft.
Avecilla played most of his freshman season in the outfield and while it wasn’t his natural position, he just wanted to fit in on the varsity squad. In his first year of high school baseball, Avecilla scored 10 runs, had nine hits and had an on-base percentage of .328.
“I knew I was young and I was nervous to play with all the older players like Josh (Lane, who is now a varsity assistant at Bret Harte) and Isaac (Abraham), but I came back the next year and felt that I did much better,” Avecilla said.
As a sophomore, Avecilla had his best season as a Bullfrog and he returned to his spot behind the plate. With Avecilla catching again, Michael could see a change in his son.
“The biggest thing with James is, catching keeps his intensity,” Michael said. “It keeps him involved with every single pitch and I think that’s what drives him to be behind the plate.”
In his sophomore season, Avecilla earned all-league honors and hit .373 with 25 hits, 24 runs scored, nine RBIs, had seven doubles, one home run, walked nine times, stole 11 bases and had a fielding percentage of .988.
Avecilla’s success came as no surprise to his father, who has seen his transition as a baseball player from the backyard to the high school diamond.
“The accumulation of all these years of high school, travel ball and private lessons have helped put together the swing that he has,” Michael said. “His mechanics are extremely sound. There are times where he’ll get a little overly aggressive and pull his front shoulder out a little bit. His biggest thing is if he just focuses middle-away and keeps his front end closed, he’ll allow his strength and athletic ability to take over.”
There is no place on a baseball field that Avecilla would rather be than behind the plate. But years of catching has taken a toll on the young player. A bad knee and constant scrapes and bruises all come with the risk of catching day after day, yet, that doesn’t bother Avecilla.
“I just love having the gear on, getting dirty and getting beat up,” he said.
Avecilla was not able to have the same success during his junior campaign as he had the year prior, so he’s looking to have a strong final year in a Bullfrog uniform. And, so far, he’s already knocked in nine RBIs and is hitting .500 in Bret Harte’s first five games.
The confidence Avecilla has as a senior is something that wasn’t there three years ago and that was on full display in a 15-11 home victory over Mountain House Monday afternoon in Angels Camp. Avecilla went 5 for 5 with two doubles, six RBIs and blasted a 3-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning.
“I’m seeing a world of difference in him between his freshman year and where he is right now,” Michael said. “His freshman year, I think he felt as though he could perform and do his job at the varsity level. Now as a senior, he knows he can perform at the varsity level and that’s the huge difference with him.”
Bret Harte has recorded two victories in the young season and Avecilla is enjoying his final ride. But most of all, he’s relishing the time he has with his teammates.
“I love the guys,” Avecilla said. “I’ve grown up with them and we’ve been playing together since we were kids and I love hanging out with them.”
Regardless if Bret Harte wins a section championship or doesn’t win another game, this is the last season Michael will get to coach his youngest child. And while there’s a real possibility that the two of them may never clinch a blue banner or Mother Lode League title together, Michael wouldn’t have traded any accomplishment over watching his son grow up on the diamond.
“Thinking about being here with him for the last four years puts a lump in my throat,” Michael said. “I wouldn’t have given this up for the world. I’ve coached him since he was 6 years old. I look at all the ups and downs that we’ve gone through as a coach/son combination and I wouldn’t trade a moment of it away for anything in the world. It’s been an experience that I personally wish every dad could experience to be side-by-side with their child on a journey like this.”