SPORTS SPOTLIGHT, BY MARC MATURO

Suffern HS grad Aviles making his pitch as a pro

Robbie Aviles, diamond in the rough

Count Suffern High School alum Robbie Aviles among those who can truthfully say they love what they are doing.

“I love it; wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world,” said Aviles of his professional baseball career, which began right out of high school in 2010 after being drafted by the Cleveland Indians organization.

Aviles, 25, who also played football and basketball for the Mounties but concentrated solely on baseball in his senior season, is pitching as a reliever with the RubberDucks — the Indians’ Class AA affiliate in Akron, Ohio.

Through 52 games as Akron went 24-28, Aviles has gone 1-1 with a 4.37 ERA in 15 appearances (23 innings), with a solid 2-to-1 ratio in strikeouts (12) to walks (6).

So far in his minor league career, Aviles has tended to master each level of competition after initial struggles. His father Brian Aviles reached Double-A while pitching five seasons in the Atlanta Braves organization in the 1980s, preparing Robbie mentally for the hurdles he would have to leap.

After 347 total innings over parts of seven minor league seasons, Aviles’ ERA is 4.01.

Aviles was considering attendance at the University of Florida when Cleveland chose him in the seventh round of the 2010 draft and signed the 6-foot-4, 200-pound hurler to a reported $150,000 bonus contract. The opportunity to turn pro was available despite a serious arm injury in Aviles’ last game of his schoolboy career, just days before the draft, as Suffern battled rival Mamaroneck in the Section playoffs.

Prior to the injury, Aviles was projected as a first round draft pick.

Aviles remembers the day as if it were yesterday. “It (injury) was in the first inning,” Aviles said. “It was our legend, (Coach) Ron Gamma against their legend (Coach) Mike Chiapparelli. Nick Kulbaba came in and did a fantastic job; we won.”

The injury cost Aviles hundreds of thousands of dollars on his bonus, but seven years later, he has taken a positive outlook at the situation. “I was a 17-year-old kid. I was upset, of course, but the Indians still gave me a great opportunity. All their trainers and staff really helped me (after Tommy John surgery), especially James Quinlan (now with the big club) and Teddy Blackwell. I was in rehab 11 months, but learned a lot – how to take care of your arm, shoulder exercises … it was a lot different than being a pitcher in a public high school.”

Aviles, who began his pro career as a starting pitcher, has been used in relief the last several years, and very much enjoys working daily with Akron pitching coach Tony Arnold, whom he describes as a “great baseball genius.”

In the offseason, Aviles works with his dad in Suffern.

“My dad has been my mentor from the start,” notes Aviles the Younger. “He helps me a lot with my confidence, to trust my stuff, to throw strikes.”

Young Aviles also points to West Nyack native Pat Kivlehan as an inspirational link.

Kivlehan, now in the major leagues with the Cincinnati Reds, did not take up baseball until his senior year at Rutgers University, but took the Big East by storm and never looked back despite early difficulties at every level.

“I know his brother, he’s (Pat) a big name around the county,” notes Aviles. “He really climbed through the ranks; he’s a real inspiration to me. I bet if you spoke with him in his sophomore or junior year at Rutgers and told him he would make the big leagues, he probably would not believe it. But here he is. I hope I can do it, too.”

Aviles said playing in the minor leagues has made up for missing out on his college years.

“You know something? It’s not easy, but we all love doing it. I’ve made so many friends from coast to coast. It’s kind of cool. Some are not here anymore, but still keep in contact. It’s not glamorous, but it’s a dream, and there’s nothing wrong with dreaming.”

Aviles is amazed by the amount of technology that has overtaken the game, but is wise enough to realize that the human element must never be overlooked.

“It’s unbelievable, so much technology, but you can’t live and die by just statistics,” says Aviles. “You still have to get outs. The best pitch is still an out. Experience trumps all.”

BIDDY KEEPS LOOKING AHEAD

Joe Biddy, veteran coach

Joe Biddy of New City has a few years under his belt as a track and cross country coach at Suffern High School – this winter marked his 45th – but the 75-year-old Ithaca College graduate has no inclination to hang up the whistle.

“I’m definitely coming back in the fall (cross country) and still planning for winter,” he said.

And, as per usual, Biddy will go into yet another season with a set of expectations.

“I’m goal oriented,” Biddy said. “Every season we go into I set a goal – something realistic and attainable. That’s what keeps me going.”

The last few years, rather unusually, have not been up to Mounties standards, admits a candid coach — but not to worry.

“Nothing gets me down. Even if we are off a bit, you still get out of it what you can.”

The long but not winding road began as an assistant for one year to the Hall of Fame coach Joe Soprano at New Rochelle HS, where Biddy played a small, supporting role with Joe’s 400 star Larry Brown, in his senior year.

Biddy quickly came to Suffern as a teacher in 1967 and took over the cross country team in 1969, and then the boys track team in 1973, and is still in both roles, along with girls winter track – a role that goes back to the 1978 season.

“The girls have actually had more success than just about anybody,” Biddy reflects, noting thousands of kids have gone through the program and mentioning – just to throw out a few names – Shelby Greany, who went on to compete at Providence College; Lintz Rivera, who set a national record in the 300, then a new event; state champion thrower Pat Reynar; half-miler and 600 standout Linda Newsom; four-time Section 1 cross country champion Dana Dougan; and distance standout Kara McKenna.

Biddy points to Mike Hagan, now retired in Florida, as his first real star, whose 4:07.8 in the mile still stands and who attended William & Mary.

“To this day, he is probably the best distance runner to come out of Rockland County,” said Biddy. “He was one of the best in the country in his time – in anybody’s time (he also ran the 800 and two-mile).”

In the early days of Rockland County track, Biddy went against such Westchester County legendary coaches as Ed Kehe at White Plains HS, Soprano at New Rochelle and Dave Ryder at Mount Vernon. It was Biddy’s team that eventually stopped Ryder’s long winning streak in cross country, when dual meets were the order of the day.

“Westchester was a real hot-bed at that time in track and field,” noted Biddy. “But we (Rockland) caught up the mid-70s.”

Local rivalries developed with Dave Hanson at Nanuet HS, Gene Dall at North Rockland and Dick Teetsel at Albertus Magnus.

“A lot of younger guys who were runners are coaching now … Tappan Zee’s Pat Driscoll for example and Ray Kondracki at Clarkstown South. All these guys, Hall of Famers, played a big hand in getting Rockland to buy into the big meets,” continued Biddy, continuing a mini-history lesson. “At one time, dual meets were the thing, but that changed. We have done that, too. I gave up a couple of league championships to run at the Millrose Games at the Garden. We all do that.”

Biddy feels his 1993 team, which featured Jim Gerhart and Frank Gagliano, might have been his finest, even though the 1999 contingent won the Mounties’ second state cross country title.

“That 1993 team won everything. They cleaned the table. After losing our first meet – our top guy was out with a sprained ankle – they won everything through Federations,” Biddy recalls. “The 1976 team was also one of the greats, but the competition was so great. Joe Chisholm, a 1977 graduate, was one of the greats to come out of the county.”

Biddy, who played one year of football at Ithaca College, ran three years cross country and four in track, continues to bang around the golf ball, but his running days are long behind him.

“I did one New York City Marathon with zero training – nearly killed myself,” the good coach said. “You know, it’s not like golf. In running you can’t hide.”

Biddy, however, is not looking to hide just yet.

“I retired from teaching last June, but (am) still coaching,” Biddy notes. “I think I have a couple of more years before turning it over.”

ON THE RUN TO STATES

Rockland County will be well-represented at the state track and field championships Friday (June 9) and Saturday (June 10) at Union-Endicott High School.

North Rockland, Pearl River and Nyack each has two competitors set to compete, with Ramapo and Suffern each sending one.

Freshman sensation Haleigh of Morales of North Rockland turned back a stiff challenge from Pippa Nuttall of John Jay-Cross River to win the D1 3,000 at the state qualifier, clocking 10:04.4. Also going from North Rockland is discus thrower Joe Guichardo, who met the state qualifying mark (150-04) earlier this season.

Louise Jones, in the girls 100 hurdles, and Dante Brown, in the boys 100 and long jump, will represent Nyack while discus thrower Pat Doyle and Kaitlyn Harding, in the girls 3,200, are going from Pearl River.

Briana Montgomery of Suffern is entered in the girls shot put while Cliventz Alexis of Ramapo is entered in the discus after tossing 156-10 at the qualifying meet at Arlington HS.