Courageous life reveals resilience, dedication

Oaks’ drive, resolve defines character on field


Special to / The Advocate

Aaron Oaks (top center) poses with his Comet teammates during the 2015 baseball season after years of work to get back in competitive form.

By Robert Clinton, Sports Editor

To persevere against all odds is what we would all hope to do when faced with seemingly insurmountable conditions. But to truly control one’s destiny one must stare adversity in its cold dark eyes and conquer it.

Thousands of children are born with sickle cell anemia each year. There are few who would not be deterred from their chosen path. Especially following a condition-related incident on the baseball field and, shortly after, suffering career threatening knee damage after being hit by a car.

“Through all of this, all of the times that I thought I was done, it seems like the game kept calling me back,” Comet first baseman Aaron Oaks said. “I’m going to keep playing until someone flat out says, son, I think it’s time to hang it up.”

An Oakland native, Oaks was born with the sickle cell trait and was advised by doctors to remain active but avoid high impact activities.

Having never suffered a crisis by age 5, the Oaks’ signed young Aaron up for tee ball. After showing no signs of complications from baseball, the outfielder’s parents informed doctors of his baseball activity and the physicians were supportive.

He continued Little League, travel ball and finally attended University Preparatory Charter Academy until the school’s closing in 2007. He then transferred to Skyline High School in Oakland.

Oaks lost focus after the transfer and let his grades slip below the eligibility level. For the first time that he could remember, baseball was not the focal point of his life.

“At the academy there was more pressure on you to keep up with your schoolwork,” Oaks said. “When I got to Skyline it was more like anything goes. It was easy to slip through the cracks.”

Adding to the embarrassment of not making the grades to play high school baseball, Oaks was shocked to receive a call from an old supporter, baseball scout Brian Morrison, who somehow already knew his academic situation.

As a freshman at the academy, Oaks would regularly sneak into the batting cage and hit for hours. It was there that he met Morrison who told him he had a good swing and that he would be watching to see how Oaks turned out.

The two remained in touch and after graduation Oaks was invited to attend a baseball camp where he showed enough potential to garner the attention of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Before leaving for Tampa, Oaks needed to hone his skills. He decided to attend Contra Costa College rather than a school closer to home.

He did not want to be around the same people he felt lured him off track in high school.

It was during his initial workout with the Comet baseball team that Oaks had the first sickle cell crisis of his life.

“I never felt pain like that before. My arms, legs and chest were on fire,” Oaks said. “Since it was my first time I tried to play through it, then I had to go tell Webb that I needed to sit down for a second.”

Oaks explained what was going on and the coaches asked if he had medication. Shortly after Oaks was rushed home to recover after taking his meds. Shortly after his mother arrived home from work, and noticing her son’s condition, she rushed him to the emergency room.

The baseball hopeful would spend the next month in a hospital bed. His only relief was morphine to ease the pain as there is no known cure for the condition.

Sensing his opportunity to play slipping through his fingers, Oaks decided to leave the hospital and return to the field — against his doctors’ orders.

His discharge would last roughly two weeks, until the hasty decision landed Oaks back in the infirmary for another month.

What is sickle cell anemia?

Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder that affects red blood cells.

People with sickle cell have red blood cells that become pointed and hardened instead of soft and round. In America it’s estimated that more than 70,000 people have the disease and more than 1,000 babies are born in the U.S. each year with the disease.

Symptoms include lung tissue damage, painful episodes and stroke. The blockage of blood flow caused by the sickle shaped cells can also prove to be a problem to most organs including the spleen, liver and kidney.

There is no universal cure for the condition.

“It’s a serious (condition). I’m just happy to see him out in the world. With all he has been through to see him still striving for his goal is amazing,” Comet baseball coach Marvin Webb said. “I was there when he had his first outbreak. He’s an inspiration to everyone.”

His rehab was intensive. It would be one year before Oaks could get back on the field.

After contacting coach Webb and with his relationship with Morrison still intact, Oaks and his doctors decided he was physically ready to get back on the field.

Shortly before the start of fall baseball, and roughly a year after his on-field attack, Oaks was hit by a car after leaving his grandmother’s house in Oakland.

It was another setback

“I looked at it and it didn’t look that bad, even though the force spun me through the air,” Oaks said. “The paramedics made me go to the hospital. That’s when they discovered the damage to my knee ligaments.”

The sickle cell exacerbated the situation and due to the massive swelling it was difficult to see if the abnormally shaped cells were adding to the internal problems.

They were.

The cells were not allowing proper blood flow to the knee, increasing swelling and dramatically slowing the healing process.

Oaks chose to opt out of surgery, fearing he would never walk the same again. After three and a half long years of low impact rehabilitation and prodding from his physical therapist, Oaks was physically ready to give his injured knee a try.

“I was watching baseball and just got the urge,” Oaks said. “I picked up an old bat, got in my stance, took a swing and everything felt fine.”

He gave Webb a call and made the 2014-15 baseball season his first in over five years.

The first baseman saw action in 20 games for the Comets during the season. In 70 at bats, Oaks hit for an average of .357, which led the team.

Oaks earned the California Community College Athletic Association’s Community College Counselors/Advisors Academic Association for Athletes Award for Outstanding Achievement on May 1.

Having been given the opportunity to play, Oaks values his team despite its disappointing 6-29 season.

“If that happened to me it would have been hard to swallow,” Comet third baseman Lumus Russell said. “It has been a tough mental grind with the injuries one after the other. But he has a good heart and still plays the game (with the enthusiasm of a) 6- or 7- year-old.”