The final stretch of the year has arrived for more than 200 high school baseball teams across
This time of year is a weekly fight to extend the season as long as possible until they are the last team standing.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes things go according to plan, sometimes they fall apart before your eyes.
That’s not just life, that’s baseball.
And while the season ended for one Division 7 program this week, it was a season unlike any other for these Fountain Valley families.
All across the country, conference titles & championship banners hang from the walls or ceilings inside school gymnasiums. Athletes and teams are immortalized, cementing legacies in the years printed on the fabric for generations to see.
The banner that displayed Los Amigos High School’s league championships for baseball inside the gymnasium was empty for the last 54 years.
It won’t be for much longer.
For the first time since Los Amigos High School opened in 1968, its varsity baseball program has won the league championship title, with their first winning season since 1984 after defeating Rancho Alamitos High School 4-2 in the final game of the regular season.
“(Feeling) pure excitement man. This school hasn’t seen a winning season in 38 years,” said Lobos sophomore infielder and pitcher Juan Gutierrez, who pitched a complete game and struck out nine in the contest against the Rancho Alamitos Vaqueros.
Los Amigos (23-5, 12-3 in the Garden Grove League) finished the regular season placed No. 4 in the California Interscholastic Federation Southern (CIF) Section Division 7 Maxpreps rankings while ranked No. 1, as of April 25, on the Southern Section Division 7 baseball top 10 polls done by the CIF baseball advisory committee.
Behind the success of the Lobos 2022 baseball program are the players who bought into their team and the coaching staff, highlighted by three-year varsity head coach Aaron Pines who is also taking on the fight of his life.
Pines, 34, has been battling cancer through surgeries, chemotherapy and clinical trials since he was diagnosed in 2019 when the cancer started at his tongue.
“Why do I have tongue cancer? I’ve never been a smoker,” Pines said when recalling his thoughts of the moment he was first diagnosed.
After surgeries done on his tongue to remove the cancer, he was okay up until June 2020 after finding out he had a lump on his neck. The cancer had spread to his neck and Pines eventually underwent more procedures including larger surgerys, chemotherapy & radiation that started in the fall of 2020.
“I went three months without eating solid food because of what the radiation does to your tongue and your throat,” Pines said. “I got married in November 2020 and couldn’t eat or drink anything at my wedding.”
In January 2021, believing the worst days were behind him, Pines found out that the cancer had yet again spread to other areas of his body.
This time to his lungs and his pelvic bone.
“That was very difficult news to hear,” Pines said. “That means the cancer is what they call ‘incurable’; they can treat it, but (it’s) not curable.”
Pines has since transitioned from receiving treatment at UCI Medical Center to the City of Hope in Duarte, where he is currently going through his third clinical trial as of about two months ago. He gets treatment every Thursday to draw blood, get his vitals checked, take his medicine, and go through the rest of the trial process. He said the side effects of the current trial are a lot more mild but doesn’t quite know yet if there’s progress on his health through the trial.
Aaron gets his first scan on May 19 to see if the cancer is continuing to grow in his lungs.
Pines is doing anything he can to get the best treatment possible to fight the cancer from growing or at the very least slow the growth down as much as possible.
Aaron finds purpose in managing an ongoing project like the Los Amigos High School varsity baseball team. But like any ongoing project, tasks have to be completed before advancing to each new milestone.
His first task as a new head coach of a baseball program three years ago was to convince the team to believe in themselves.
Pines introduced himself to the program on the first day of the 2019-2020 school year. He had student athletes fill out a survey, talked through expectations from the players and what to expect from him, and set the immediate goal of making the CIF playoffs.
“I do remember there were a lot of wide eyes and faces,” Pines said. “None of the guys on the team thought they could win. They thought they were going to lose all the time. That’s what they expected.”
The new approach was accountability from the players to show up everyday and believe they can win.
They practiced the following day.
Los Amigos never had the opportunity to reach their goal that year after the 2020 baseball season was cut severely short due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pines’ health had gotten worse during the time away from baseball activities and wasn’t sure he was going to be able to coach the following year when it was safe to do so.
Weeks before the 2021 high school baseball season started, Pines resumed his duties as head coach.
The 2021 Los Amigos varsity baseball team didn’t have many players in the program, according to coach Pines, but did have the talent to win games. The 2021 Lobos finished the season in third place (5-6, 5-5 in the Garden Grove League) and met their goal of reaching the postseason.
“Once you start winning, everything changes.” Pines said. “We lost our first playoff game but then one of our other assistant coaches said, ‘hey guys, next year let’s take the next step and go league champions’. I kinda laughed and said we’ll see.”
It only took summer for that thought to settle and for Aaron to believe that his team could
“They’re fundamentally sound defensively,” said 15-year Los Amigos athletic director Chris Sandro, when asked about what he’s observed about this year’s team. “That has always been an achilles heel of Los baseball. We give up that huge inning.”
The potential for a run at the title became more real after Pines witnessed a 6-4 comeback win this season on the road against Loara High School on March 4 to remain undefeated (10-0) at the time.
Los was losing 2-4 going into the top of the 7 inning and the Lobos scored 4 runs to steal the win, putting up a 1-2-3 shutdown inning in the bottom of the 7 to secure the 6-4 victory.
“One time after practice (Aaron Pines) told us, ‘Just imagine us on that field winning. Just imagine how good that feels,’” Juan Gutierrez, also known as JP, said. “It just sparked in us all and look where we came out.”
JP identified that the culture and approach to the game of baseball that Pines and his coaching staff provided fit the team. How the coaches got through to the athletes is what made them unique to work with.
Junior infielder Chris Betancourt said that he loves working with his coaches because they communicate with him exactly on what he can improve on.
“Everyone motivates one another,” Betancourt said.
After tough losses against Santiago High School & Loara High School earlier in the season, Pines’ go-to formula to recover was to have a fun, but competitive practice followed by a normal and focused one the following day.
Pines then sends his pitcher JP Gutierrez out on the mound to start the following game, leading to a victory.
“(Aaron) is one huge piece of this program,” said Marvin Reyes, assistant varsity baseball coach and former Lobos first baseman from 2014 to 2017. “The other four days he’s out here, he comes ready, game plan ready. He’s not down, he’s always up. He always wants the team up.”
JP mentioned that he and the team pick each other up when they make mistakes or feel down.
“You think about what he’s going through and you think ‘man let’s get back on it for him (and) for the team,’” JP said. “He makes us all better people and better ballplayers.”
Aaron also works as a teacher at Edison High School in Huntington Beach while coaching the Los Amigos baseball team. Aaron is a long time Dodgers fan, listening to Dodgers broadcast legend Vin Scully on the mic in the mid 90s all the way through their 2020 World Series championship. He also enjoys watching WWE pro-wrestling.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was his favorite wrestler growing up and still is today.
“The main thing was on the microphone he was so good,” Pines said. “Made fun of his opponents and stuff, with all the catchphrases. To a 13-year-old kid, The Rock was the coolest person you could be.”
A Go-Fund-Me page set up by Edison High School teacher Brian Boone features messages from Dwayne Johnson and Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner reciprocating their support in Pines’ fight against cancer. As of May 11, the page has raised $56,081 and is closing in on the goal of $60,000 in assistance for him and Aaron’s wife Deriah to pay for medical bills and additional expenses.
The Lobos head coach has had a core support group –which includes his father Myron Pines, his wife Deriah, Lobos assistant coaches, and other family– in helping him prepare for the day and to help get him to where he has to be daily. Myron Pines also serves as an assistant varsity coach at Los Amigos.
While Myron declined to comment to Voice of OC, Myron said he was “very appreciative” of Los Amigos’ athletic director Chris Sandro for giving his son the opportunity to be the head coach of the varsity baseball program.
“(Aaron) comes from a baseball family name,” Sandro said. “I knew I was getting a guy who was hungry to be a varsity head coach and a guy who knew his stuff. I didn’t need much more convincing to give him a shot.”
Los Amigos defeated Leuzinger High School 17-3 in the first round of the 2022 CIF Southern Section Division 7 playoffs, advancing to the tournament’s second round for the first time in program history.
The Lobos’ postseason run ended on Tuesday afternoon, losing 4-7 to Big Bear High School on the road. While the team fell short, coach Pines made it a clear message to the team –in a postgame speech on the last game of the regular season– that their goal was already met.
Aaron said that he played sports –football, baseball, soccer, water polo for a year– when he was in high school and competed in the playoffs frequently. However, he never won a league title.
“I just want them to be able to look back and have good feelings, good memories about playing high school baseball here at Los Amigos.” Pines said. “I was just very happy that they’re going to have that memory forever no matter what happens the rest of their high school career.”
Aaron Pines – Head Varsity Coach
Myron Pines – Asst. Varsity Coach
Marvin Reyes – Asst. Varsity Coach
Adam Contreras – Asst. Varsity Coach
#1 Martin Munoz
#2 Maysen Navarro
#3 Juan Paulo Gutierrez
#4/#8 Chris Bentancourt
#5 Aaron Ramirez
#6 Daniel Cortez
#7 Josh Mercado
#9 Josiah Alvarez
#10 Aaron Alarcon
#11 Eric Ramirez
#12 Tyler Lay
#14 Carlos Herrera
#15 Adrian Ramirez
#16 Andrew Roybal
#17 Steven Esteves