Not too often a visiting cheering section is as loud as the home crowd, especially with more than 3,000 in attendance at a college baseball game, but that was the case when Nick Gonzales and some of his New Mexico State teammates were announced Tuesday night at Hi Corbett Field.
Whether it was Gonzales, a former Cienega High School standout, or ex-Canyon del Oro star Tristan Peterson getting one of their three hits against Arizona, or former Sahuarita pitcher Chris Barraza throwing one of his four strikeouts as a reliever, the Aggies fans in attendance were heard loud and clear.
“I think 30, 40 (family and friends) are here,” Gonzales said after the Aggies lost 14-10, all of them sticking around until the end against Arizona in a game that lasted 4 hours, 9 minutes.
“It was great. Go up to hit and everyone screams your name and everything at an away game, it’s pretty cool.”
With only 275 miles separating Tucson from Las Cruces, N.M., Gonzales, Barraza and Peterson, and three other Southern Arizona products on the New Mexico State roster are close to home. Almost 200 of the crowd at Hi Corbett on Tuesday included family and friends of these Aggies.
The other locals on the roster include former Nogales infielder Kevin Jimenez and pitcher Mark Lopez (both two-time state champions for the Apaches) and former Desert Christian pitcher Andrew Edwards (3.12 ERA in 8 2/3 innings of relief this season).
They get another chance to play the Wildcats at Hi Corbett Field on April 30.
“It’s great to see these local kids advancing in their careers,” said Bryan Huie, a longtime scout (now with the New York Yankees) who also runs Baseball’s Next Level (BNL) training instruction program in Tucson.
A principal at Mission Manor Elementary and a former coach at Sahuarita, Huie understands the commitment — on and off the field — the Southern Arizona players must make to go on to college baseball and beyond. The six local New Mexico State players and two of Arizona’s players — pitcher Gil Luna (Casa Grande High School) and Ian Mejia (Sahuarita) — were part of his BNL program.
“I’m obviously an educational advocate and one of the best things about my job is a lot of kids go play college baseball because of the relationships I’ve built from being a scout,” Huie said. “That’s honestly been one of the coolest things, to help kids go off and play baseball. I think we’ve helped over 250 guys probably go off and play college baseball, maybe 300 in all those 17 years, all from Southern Arizona.”
And alumni such as Gonzales, an all-state performer at Cienega, are thriving.
Given how he has played in his two years at New Mexico State to this point, Gonzales, a second baseman who bats third in the Aggies’ lineup, will still be in contention for college baseball’s triple crown when the Aggies return to Hi Corbett Field next month.
He leads the nation in batting (an unbelievable .533 average) and RBIs (45). He is tied with teammate Tristan Carranza for fourth in the nation in home runs (11).
Last season, Gonzales, 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, was the WAC Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-WAC performer. He was also chosen a Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American, leading the Aggies with a .347 batting average while compiling 17 doubles, nine home runs and 36 RBIs.
Through the first 20 games this season, leading New Mexico State to a 15-5 record, Gonzales already has surpassed his home run and RBI totals from last season. He presently has eight doubles.
“Things are going really well,” Gonzales said after batting 3 for 5 with a double and RBI against Arizona. “Coach (Brian) Green is doing a great job of helping me with my approach and everything going up before my at-bat and just trying to help compete and help the team win.”
Gonzales was very complimentary of Green, a New Mexico State alumnus who has an extensive coaching background as an assistant at UCLA and Kentucky.
“Coach Green has helped my swing so much and he’s helped me become such a better hitter and really establish a good foundation for me, and things are going really well,” Gonzales said.
Huie remarked that when Gonzales played in his BNL program, starting at the age of 15, he noticed more than just a baseball prospect. He saw a young man with principles, which is important to a player’s overall development in the eyes of college recruiters and professional scouts.
“He is a more complete hitter now. That all comes from just being Nick. He is one of the hardest working kids I’ve ever had in my 17 years doing this,” Huie said. “His work ethic is just unbelievable. We went to Nashville, Tenn., a few years ago with my BNL teams and he was the best player on the field by far with the teams we were playing or our team.
“It was late after one game. Everybody was ready to go to the hotel. I look back and the only kid in the dugout still picking up trash was him. That’s just the kind of kid he is. But as far as a baseball player, it doesn’t surprise me. He’s got plus bat speed, he can run, he can throw. That’s why he is one of the best hitters in the country.”
.@CienegaBobcats baseball standout Nick Gonzales, now a sophomore leading @NMStateBaseball batting .529 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs, about to take on @ArizonaBaseball at Hi Corbett Field. Gonzales Freshman All-American last season. pic.twitter.com/0HKbyewIkm
Gonzales, a very even-keel person, said what sets him apart from last season in his development is not becoming overwhelmed by the moment in his approach.
“Last year, it was great, I did well and everything, I played nervous a lot of times,” he said. “I felt this year if I go out and have fun, play my hardest, I can’t go wrong.”
Nick’s older brother, Daniel, is another Cienega product who was a standout linebacker at Navy. Daniel is presently based in Okinawa, Japan, with the Marines. Nick said Daniel plays for a football team at the base and is hopeful of playing professionally when he returns to the United States.
Nick’s immediate goal is to get New Mexico State its second WAC championship with him in the lineup. The Aggies, who won their first WAC tournament championship last season, start conference play this weekend hosting Cal State Bakersfield.
“We’re looking to come out strong,” he said.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.