NASHVILLE, Tenn. — About 45 minutes before midnight Sunday, Jayson Gonzalez led off the top of the eighth inning looking at Vanderbilt’s 8-7 deficit to visiting Georgia Tech in an NCAA Regional game.
Seven pitches later, on a 3-2 count, the senior from California obliterated a ball just left of dead center to tie the game.
It was the lift the Commodores (43-15) needed in a game they would go on to win 14-11 to preserve their 2021 season.
“He’s been inserted in the lineup and taken out at various points throughout the year and I think that moment for him (Sunday) we were all just so happy for him,” said Vandy junior Dominic Keegan who homered with two outs later in the inning giving the Commodores a 9-8 lead. “He really earned that and he deserved that. So just him staying the course and being the leader that he is has helped us tremendously. That was moment was so special.”
— Vanderbilt Baseball (@VandyBoys) June 7, 2021
A 6-foot-2, 220-pound third baseman from Covina, California, Gonzalez is on the verge of his final two or three games at Hawkins Field. Vanderbilt hosts East Carolina (44-15) starting at 11 a.m. Friday in a best-of-three Super Regional series.
Gonzalez had been in an 0-for-11 slump before that hit Sunday, arguably his largest of the season. And because of that moment he and his teammates have more games to play making the senior’s season far from over.
“I’m just trying to soak in everything this weekend. Not trying to think about it being my last couple games here, but obviously it’s in the back of my mind,” Gonzalez said. “Just trying to enjoy every moment with my team and the fans and the great atmosphere that we’re going to have this weekend.
“Throughout this year I’ve been thinking about my team and the past. There’s a lot of things that I could take away from my career here. There’s not one specific thing – there’s hundreds. Going back to my freshman year and being able to be a part of that team – then obviously in 2019 with the great leadership that we had those guys did a great job of teaching the younger guys what this program is about, teaching us how to lead this team and they obviously left this program better than when they came in. Just trying to keep that trend going and trying to leave it better for the guys in the future.”
In 2017, Gonzalez arrived on campus looking to make an immediate impact for the Dores out of Bishop Amat High School in California. The following spring he started in 39 games and drove in 28 runs while hitting a modest .225.
Gonzalez then played mostly a reserve role on the 2019 national championship squad while hitting .357 in 25 games. After most of the 2020 campaign was canceled due to COVID-19, Gonzalez returned in 2021 as a staple in the Vandy lineup playing in all but six games and starting all but nine.
As one of just three seniors on the roster he knows how far he’s come since those first few hours in a black-and-gold uniform way back when.
“I think I’ve matured a lot. Coming into my freshman year I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I was 17, 18 years old playing with 20, 21, 22 year olds. So over the past four years I think I’ve definitely matured. My confidence has definitely grown because of that. And I’ve gotten bigger, faster, stronger – so those are some of the things I’ve improved on over the four years here.”
A sociology major on track to graduate later this year, Gonzalez goes into the weekend hitting .295 with seven home runs and 35 runs driven in – those numbers mostly coming from his No. 9 spot in the batting order. His 67 assists is third-most on the team behind middle infielders Tate Kolwyck and Carter Young.
Gonzalez’s impact, perhaps, has been felt more so outside of the diamond. His leadership role was defined by those who came before him, those Commodores he watched tentatively during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Gonzalez now allows his younger teammates to come to him for help but also won’t hesitate to provide a guiding hand when the time is right.
“If I see a guy struggling then I’ll go up and talk to him and tell him, ‘Hey, try to stay calm and relax and slow the heartbeat down and just enjoy the game. Pretend like you’re playing whiffle ball in your backyard when you were five years old,’ ” he said. “Then having some of the younger guys come up to me as well I just try to tell them the same thing. Enjoy it while you are here.
“There’s obviously going to be a lot of ups and downs, but at the end of the day you just to enjoy it and try to overcome those downs and just try to help the team win.”
Gonzalez has been guided during his journey in Nashville by parents Wallace Gonzalez Jr. and Adela Gonzalez, sister Lexi Gonzalez and brother Wallace Gonzalez III. His parents, sister and a pair of cousins will be making the trek from California and will be in the stands this weekend at Hawkins Field to see the third baseman cross the chalk one final time.
And that makes Gonzalez happy with an expression he hopes Vandy fans won’t forget.
“I hope they remember my smile,” he said. “I just try to enjoy every moment, be a great teammate and try to be there. And being a competitor I always tried to help my team win and am always enjoying the moment while it lasts.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.