Ethan Skuija's optimistic, happy-go-lucky nature has proven to be almost unshakable.
Despite a few setbacks in his baseball career, Skuija says he's never lost faith that his talents will take him where he hopes to go, and insists his good nature extends off the field as well.
“I always try to keep with the positivity and keep the good vibes going not only with myself but I try to spread that to my teammates, classmates, peers, friends, everybody,” he said.
While he has seen it on regular display in the CSUB clubhouse over the past two seasons, Roadrunner head coach Jeremy Beard says there are limits to Skuija's sunny personality.
A hard-throwing, 6-foot-3-inch right-handed starting pitcher, Skuija has been known to leave the smile in the dugout when he takes the mound, and his college coach is usually thrilled to see the transformation take place.
"He’s one of those real nice guys that you get a little vinegar in there and you push a few buttons and he turns into a different guy," Beard said. "When he’s clicking and he’s on, he has a look to him that you just feel like the game’s going to go well for him and the team.”
Never have things gone as well for Skuija as they did during a 2020 stint with the Pierre (S.D.) Trappers of the Expedition Summer League, where his performance was not merely good, but historic.
In nine appearances for the Trappers, Skuija went 4-0, recording a league-best 75 strikeouts with only 14 walks. His ERA (1.25), batting average against (.118), strikeouts per nine innings (15.6) and WHIP (0.78) were not only the best in the league this summer, but the best in league history, making him an easy choice for Pitcher of the Year honors.
"It was the most amazing season of my entire life," Skuija said. "I had impeccable command with all my pitches. I had some really good velocity. I couldn't name a thing that wasn't working for me the entire season."
It wasn't the first Pitcher of the Year award Skuija has won. After transferring from the University of British Columbia, he nabbed the same honor with the CCCAA in 2018, winning a state-best 13 games and recording 109 strikeouts at Ohlone College in Fremont.
Things didn't go as smoothly after transferring to CSUB in 2019. Named the opening-day starter, Skuija got tagged for eight runs (though just two were earned) in 1 1/3 innings in an 11-0 loss to Pepperdine. He finished the year just 2-7 with a 6.33 ERA.
He appeared on the verge of a turnaround in 2020. He hurled a team-best 23 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings and held opponents to an average of .200 before the remainder of the season was canceled in March.
After not getting to finish out the college year, Beard was excited to see Skuija bounce back with such a stellar performance in South Dakota.
"He was on path to go out and have a great year for us this spring when COVID hit," Beard said. "It was really big for him to do that because he’d just gotten to that point where he was ready to prove it on the field and do some things that were special for him for the first time in his career. I think he got a taste of that this summer and now he’s ready to go do that this spring.”
COVID-19 may have delayed Skuija from reaching his ultimate goal as well.
Prior to the summer, he says representatives from one Major League team told him they intended to select him in the 2020 Amateur Draft, but didn't pull the trigger after the draft was cut from 40 rounds to five.
Luckily, he'll still have an opportunity to improve his craft at the college level, as the NCAA granted all spring athletes another year of eligibility. Unsurprisingly, Skuija has a very positive outlook about the 2021 season and beyond.
"I feel like everything is just going to work out if I keep working hard and putting my head down and doing what I’m supposed to do," said Skuija, who added that he's "very, very excited about the upcoming season."
"Even if it doesn't work out as I planned, I feel like everything’s going to end up ok.”