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At 6-foot-5, Aiva Arquette isn't your typical shortstop

by Zak Wolf
Sunday, June 23, 2024

At 6-foot-5, Aiva Arquette isn't your typical shortstop
Each time George Gusman peered at Aiva Arquette prior to his junior season at Saint Louis High School (Hawaii), it felt as if he only grew taller. Arquette — already well over 6-feet tall — left Gusman in disbelief. The puzzled manager finally drummed up the courage to question his star shortstop about his height, to which he responded:

“I’m 6-foot-3”

Over the next couple months, Gusman noticed the same trend. Gradually, Arquette’s frame only got bigger, prompting him to repeat his previous inquiry.

When Arquette gave a slightly different answer of “6-foot-3 and three quarters,” Gusman posed a follow-up question.

“Are you still growing?” Gusman asked.

“I hope not,” Arquette quickly answered back.

The reply may have seemed baffling to anyone unfamiliar with Arquette, but not to those close to him. Arquette’s goal was always to play shortstop at the highest level possible. But with each inch, Arquette knew his dream was fading. Not by choice.

“Somebody's going to have to tell him that he can't be a shortstop because he's going to try and prove you wrong every single day that he's out there,” Gusman said.

Questions around whether Arquette would grow out of the shortstop position (literally) constantly followed him since high school. Yet Arquette’s elite defense and range despite his height often silences doubters. He’s remained steadfast in his desire to play the premier infield position, even with it being against the norm for someone his size. Though he spent time at second base with the University of Washington this past season, he’s returned to short this summer with the Anglers before going back to Washington in the fall.

The reasoning behind Arquette’s concern about his height stems from the fact there aren’t many tall modern shortstops in baseball. The taller you are, the more likely you are to get placed at first or third base.

Prior to middle school, Arquette was on the taller side, but once he got to sixth grade, kids started passing him, according to Arquette’s dad, Athens. He was 5-foot-7 entering eighth grade, but shot up to over 6-feet tall by 10th grade before gradually growing an inch each year until he finished high school.

Once Arquette reached 6-foot-4, he started doing the math, unable to think of any professional shortstops who were taller than that, Athens said. ONeil Cruz from the Pittsburgh Pirates is one of two 6-foot-7 shortstops ever to play in the MLB, while there have only been four others to start games who were 6-foot-5.

Current MLB shortstops Carlos Correa and reigning World Series MVP Corey Seager stand at 6-foo-4, but gone are the days of all-time greats like Cal Ripken Jr., Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriquez, all of whom stood well above 6-feet. Even they would pale in comparison to Arquette, who now stands at 6-foot-5.

It got to the point where Arquette jokingly shaved off inches and lied about his true height. He even complained about it to his friends, which they lambasted him for.

“He definitely would try to underplay his height, for sure,” Athens said. “He didn't want guys, cornering him at the corner.”

As time wore on and Arquette’s talent became ever present playing for local travel team 808 and later Saint Louis, scouts flocked to Hawaii to meet with him. Most were subtle in their evaluations, alluding to a shift to third base as Arquette’s primary position. Others directly stated their intentions, Athens explained.

Arquette simply disagreed. He didn’t want to give up a position he’d played since he was 5 years old.

“I give him a lot of credit. He was 17 years old, and he looked them in the eye. He goes, ‘I'm a shortstop.’ He was adamant about it,” Athens said.

Aiva Arquette makes a catch along the fence in Chatham's 2-1 loss to Yarmouth-Dennis on June 16. Photograph by Ella Tovey

Through his experience playing football and basketball, Arquette always possessed elite mobility. Arquette’s extensive fielding range at shortstop never dissipated as he grew in stature.

As much as Arquette worried his height would hinder his prospects of playing shortstop, it was the opposite on the hardwood. Arquette actually was the 2021-22 Hawaii Gatorade player of the year for basketball and led Saint Louis to its first State Championship in 30 years.

Six years earlier, Gusman noticed Arquette dominating on the court during a middle school gym class. He’d been aware of Arquette since he was 7 years old when he attended baseball camps at Saint Louis High School and knew that was always his biggest passion.

Gusman kept a close eye on Arquette once he reached high school. It wasn’t common for him to bring underclassmen to varsity, so he placed Arquette on junior varsity. Despite his talent, Gusman didn’t want Arquette to waste time when he could be getting valuable reps. He did it again the following season to Arquette’s disappointment, but the decision didn’t last for long.

The JV team was perched on the opposite side of the varsity field. Everyday, Gusman alongside his infield coach watched Arquette gobble up ground balls with ease. Then came the inevitable decision of calling Arquette up. Gusman said he should’ve taken the senior starting shortstop’s spot because of his consistency, but it never came to that as the season ended due to COVID-19.

Come junior year, there was no denying Arquette the starting position. His smooth nature and athleticism allowed him to grow his range while making plays to his left and right. Arquette’s arm combined with his high baseball I.Q. made for an elite defender, Gusman said.

“He's got such good control of the way he throws the ball. He can throw from all angles. He throws from the low arm slot as good as anybody I've ever seen,” Gusman said.

Arquette’s defensive prowess also stood out to new Washington head coach Jason Kelly, who took over as the Huskies’ head coach in June 2022. Kelly knew Arquette was a big time west coast commit and wanted to hold onto him despite Lindsay Meggs’ — who previously recruited him — departure from the program.

Talking to Arquette, Kelly noticed he loved to play defense which “may sound funny to the non-baseball person,” according to him, but not everybody does and that’s where Arquette separated himself.

When he was 8 years old, Arquette discovered Ozzie Smith — the legendary St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop — highlights on his iPad and became enthralled, Athens said. The more he grew, people recommended Ripken videos along with Rodriguez. Arquette later gravitated toward Manny Machado and Carlos Correa, some of the taller shortstops in Major League Baseball today. He often recreated their highlight-reel throws on the run for fun, Athens said.

The athleticism Arquette possessed led him down other avenues as well. On the hardwood, Arquette was just as impressive and skilled. From November until baseball practices started in late January and early February, basketball consumed Arquette. He hit in the cage once or twice a week and tossed the baseball around with his friends occasionally in an attempt to stay fresh. Yet his focus remained securing a basketball state championship. Once he was done with that, a baseball title was on the cards.

Selfishly, Gusman joked that he didn’t want the basketball team to make a deep run because it bled into the baseball season. No matter how much Arquette tried to prepare, his bat wouldn’t be up to speed due to the lack of live pitching. But Gusman didn’t get his wish. Arquette led St. Louis to a win over Mililani High School in the championship game.

The following morning, the baseball team had a scrimmage at 10 a.m. Gusman said Arquette went to bed at 3 a.m. the previous night after watching the replay of the game, but promptly showed up at 9 a.m. ready to go.

“I actually hit a bomb that game,” Arquette said with a smile, which momentarily quelled Gusman’s worries about his rusty bat.

Even though Arquette was drafted in the 18th round of the 2022 MLB Draft, he felt it was best to attend college at Washington — where for the first time he focused on just one sport.

Aiva Arquette makes a throw across his body in Chatham's 5-1 victory over Bourne on June, 17. Photograph by Ella Tovey

Since he didn’t spend much time recruiting Arquette, Kelly’s initial thoughts somewhat mirrored those of the scouts who doubted his abilities to play short. Albeit, Kelly took more curiosity in playing Arquette there. That was only accelerated once he saw him play for the first time in-person.

“(I thought) ‘Wow, I kind of want to see this kid play shortstop, I don't know how he's gonna be able to do this,’” Kelly said. “Two minutes into him taking ground balls in the middle of the field, you say, ‘Oh, this is a different level of athleticism.’”

Though, before Arquette could establish himself as a freshman, he opted to have knee surgery to repair a nagging injury he’d been dealing with since high school. Arquette didn’t redshirt, returning in early April, but his season came to a halt after he broke his hand on a hit-by-pitch just 45 at-bats in.

Once Arquette recovered, Cam Clayton already occupied Washington’s starting shortstop position. Instead of putting him on the corners, Kelly didn’t want to waste Arquette’s glove, so he stuck him at second. Kelly mentioned that second base is in some ways harder than short because your shoulders are almost never square. He was taking a risk, but trusted Arquette.

What Kelly got was an All-Pac 12 defensive performance from Arquette at second. Kelly said over the course of the season, Arquette’s mental side improved and his ability to read hitters and anticipate pitches. That combined with his athleticism created an unconventional, yet lockdown second baseman.

“There wasn't one time with him in the middle of the field where I was like, ‘Oh man, if he wasn't so big, he would have been able to get to that ball,’” Kelly said.

Now primed for the starting shortstop role with Washington this upcoming season, Kelly feels Arquette has the potential to be one of the best players on the west coast next season.

“He's not even close to his ceiling yet,” Kelly said.

To reach that potential, Arquette swapped the sunny beaches of Oahu for a summer on Cape Cod with Chatham. Despite playing shortstop consistently for the first time since high school, Arquette has shown no rust with the Anglers.

He exudes that same quiet confidence which has always traveled with him no matter where he’s played, which Anglers manager Jeremy “Sheets” Sheetinger immediately took note of.

“He knows he belongs here. He walks around confidently but certainly his play is starting to back that up and that's exactly what we want,” Sheetinger said.

Arquette’s game is certainly not a finished product. After a slight hiatus, Arquette wants to continue to polish his skills at shortstop, where he hopes to grow his game in a metaphorical sense.

On the other hand, if you ask him if he’ll physically grow any more, Arquette produces a simple response.

“I think I'm done,” Arquette said. “I did the math.”