Most people know him as the kid that hit a home run in his first college at-bat. To start at a Division-I school as a freshman is one thing, but to hit one over the fence in his debut was another.
That moment came 13 years after Nick Gonzalez picked up a baseball bat for the first time.
“I don’t remember rounding the bases, to be honest,” Gonzalez said. “I remember coming home, but everything was just kind of a blur. It was an unbelievable moment.”
After playing tee-ball for a bit, his dad knew baseball was going to be something special.
“We put him in baseball and he looked very natural,” said Nick’s father, Carlos Gonzalez. “He was able to catch balls right away, field them and hit. He was really good.”
Gonzalez was also really fast. Always being quick on his feet, he earned himself a nickname — Speedy.
Despite being fast and having a natural ability to play the game from the beginning, Gonzalez started working with his childhood coach, José Ortega. The two started working together when Gonzalez was 6 years old.
Ortega is a Venezuelan native who played professionally from 1995-99. He played for the New York Yankees, the St. Louis Cardinals and Tigres de Aragua, a Venezuelan professional baseball team.
Ortega is credited with training major leaguers like Carlos Gonzalez, Sandy Leon, Alberto Gonzalez, Gerardo Parra, Ender Inciarte, Adrian Sanchez and dozens more in the minors.
“From the beginning, it’s always been a dream of mine to go play college or professional,” Gonzalez said. ”When I was 12, we were focused on developing myself, getting bigger, getting stronger, then that way I could achieve those goals.”
Gonzalez played AAU baseball from ages 9 to 12. When he turned 12, he made the decision to step away from travel ball and focus solely on his training with Ortega. That’s when he started playing for his international academy, José Ortega International Academy.
He was playing on an 18U team at 12 years old.
By the time Gonzalez got to high school, he was already fully invested in improving his performance as a player. He spent countless hours practicing because he knew it would pay off one day.
“No kidding, he would practice six or seven days a week since he was 8 years old,” Carlos said. “He wanted to get better. He wanted to make it.”
Spending so much time dedicated to baseball meant he missed out on a lot of things with friends.
“A lot of kids take summer breaks and go to the movies but Nicholas missed out on all of that,” Carlos said. “He would go fishing with me whenever we could, but it was always baseball.”
Gonzalez attended Alonso High School in Tampa. It’s also the same school where 2017 College World Series MVP pitcher Alex Faedo and late Miami Marlins pitcher José Fernandez played.
While Gonzalez spent his freshman and sophomore years training with Ortega, he decided to try out for the school’s team his junior year. He played on the varsity squad his final two years in high school.
Gonzalez verbally committed to Jacksonville University (JU) in the summer of 2016. He determined that staying close to home to be with his family was important, so he decided not to attend JU. Shortly after, USF gave him a call.
“Nicholas was so happy because he used to come to camps here,” Carlos said. “That was in September of his senior year.”
Gonzalez stands at 5-feet 9-inches, so he’s not the tallest or biggest player on any field. His dad knew that proving his ability beyond his physical appearance would be a challenge.
“We knew, as parents, that he had the potential,” Carlos said. “But again, because of his size, he always had to prove beyond any doubt to any coach that every time he steps on the field, he can play as good as anybody … Now, it’s like his job. He competes and proves every single time he goes out on the field that he can be the best he can.”
Now, 13 years after picking up his first baseball bat, Gonzalez is starting most games at shortstop for USF.
Sitting in the same seats at every home game are his parents, Carlos and Maria. You can usually see them there at least 30 minutes before first pitch and his dad is always sporting a gray USF jersey with ‘Gonzalez’ written on the back.
“It means a lot. It’s always nice to have that support. My mom and dad have been my No. 1 supporters for forever,” Gonzalez said. “You know they’ve been to every single practice, every single game and that support is just unbelievable.”
With 24 games left in the regular season, Gonzalez already has his eye set on one thing.
“Make conference and try to win a ring,” he said.