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The Interviews: Former Cienega Baseball Standout Nick Gonzales

Nick Gonzales (WAC Graphic)

Nick Gonzales is an All-American baseball player from Cienega playing infield for New Mexico State. His awards are almost too long to properly document but his latest recognition is too much to ignore, the former Cienega standout is listed to be drafted No. 5 in the 2020 MLB Draft. Former Tucson High standout Eddie Leon was drafted No. 3 in 1966.

Here is the history of the Top 10 professional draft picks from Southern Arizona:

No. 2: 2010: Molly Johnson, Sabino (NPF)
No. 3: 1989: Sean Elliott, Cholla (NBA)
No. 3: 1966: Eddie Leon, Tucson (MLB)
No. 4: 2014: Estela Piñon, Sunnyside (NPF)
No. 6: 1984: Mossy Cade, Santa Cruz (NFL)
No. 7: 1982: Sam Khalifa, Sahuaro (MLB)
No. 9: 1965: Eddie Leon, Tucson (MLB)
No. 10: 1984: Ramon Rosthenhausler, Sunnyside (MLB)
No. 10: 2002: Levi Jones, Santa Cruz (NFL)

We talked to Gonzales on Saturday afternoon:

Q: When did you start playing sports and what team did you play for?

A: I started playing baseball around 3 years old and I played for Rincon Little League, my dad’s club team the D-Backs and for Tucson Champs coached by George Arias. I also played football for the Vikings and the Wildcats.

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Q: Did your dad coach you when you were younger?

A: Yes, he coached my baseball and football teams till I was about 13.

Q: Who were your role models growing up?

A: My brother (Daniel) and my dad. I learned a lot from watching my brother and he pushed me to try to be better. I didn’t see a lot of his high school games because I was five years younger than him and I was probably fooling around at the games but I caught a lot of his college games and he’s a great role model for me.

Q: Did you know how hard he hit in high school?

A: Yes, I knew. Even when I wasn’t watching, I heard the crowd get excited and I knew it was probably one of his hits they were cheering for.

Q: When did you have a feeling you were really good at baseball?

A: I always knew I had the passion and drive to be better and I worked hard to be successful when I was young. My success continued through high school and then I wasn’t highly recruited so that sent me back. It wasn’t until my sophomore season at New Mexico State that I gained my confidence back and I was were I was before as a good player.

Q: What changed in your sophomore season in college?

A: I knew I was going to play and I got comfortable hitting good pitchers and then the summer in the Cape Cod League let me know I was ready. As a freshman, I was always nervous I was going to lose my spot even though I never did. I wanted to hold my position and it all came together as a sophomore.

Q: There are 11 kids from Arizona and five from Southern Arizona on the New Mexico State roster. What is the connection between New Mexico State and Tucson?

A: I think it’s a great program for good players who haven’t got their shot yet but they are really good but just not ready for the Pac-12. I know I wasn’t ready for the Pac-12. Guys who are good and want to stay close to home and play for a great team. The atmosphere is similar to Arizona and it feels like home.

Q: What school is your rival?

A: I would say Grand Canyon and Sacramento State because we battle for the conference championship but the alumni would say New Mexico. You always want to beat New Mexico.

Q: Tell us your thoughts on missing your baseball season this year.

A: It’s an empty feeling to think you may have played your last game and didn’t even know it at the time. I never got to play my last game with my buddies and we never got to prepare for it. We just played a game one day, goofed on the bus and then we all headed in different directions the next day.

Q: It looks like the MLB Draft is going to happen. Is this something you’ve been waiting for?

A: I was focused on my games when the season was on but I am actually more physically prepared now for the draft because I’ve been working out and hitting. I’m in great shape. I can focus my attention on the draft and prepare myself for what might be next.

Q: How does it feel to have every baseball expert in the country know your name?

A: It’s surreal. It’s crazy when I think about it. I know I am blessed and when someone brings it up, I try to laugh it off. I’m very fortunate.

Q: Besides your brother and dad, who were your role models and who will you be starstruck to meet in MLB?

A: Growing up it was Alex Rodriguez. If I met Derek Jeter, I would be starstruck. Aaron Judge.

Q: You obviously have little kids asking for your autograph and you were probably that little boy once. What does that feel like?

A: Yes sir, I was. I want to touch their hearts and show them how to play the game right and pass down my passion for the game down to them. They are the next generation and I try to have fun with the kids who come to my games.

The Gonzales family watching Daniel play for Navy. (Family Photo)

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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019. Contact Andy Morales at amoralesmytucson@yahoo.com

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