June 21, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
You can just tell it’s summertime.
The weather is warmer, the people friendlier.
In Harwich, Massachusetts, and throughout Cape Cod, those summertime feelings translate into seeing things you might not ordinarily see.
For example, you might see something like Georgia Tech sophomore Matt Gonzalez giving up his body to make a play for University of Maryland pitcher Jake Drossner, while rooting for him to get out Yellow Jackets teammate A.J. Murray.
It’s the polar opposite of the match-up that took place less than a month ago when Murray faced Drossner in the ACC Championship Game. But that was a different season.
It’s summer now and college teammate-turned-summer league opponent and vice versa is commonplace.
Over the next two months, Gonzalez will find himself rooting for Tar Heels and Hokies and Tigers (oh, my!), not to mention Fighting Irish and even Cavaliers once the College World Series ends.
On the Cape, rooting for ACC foes is not a bad thing. It’s something Gonzalez has enjoyed thus far.
“It’s a different environment up here. My teammates are all much closer, I guess because there are a lot more ACC guys,” he said, “I knew a bunch of guys coming up here already, so I already had some friends. It’s just a different environment.”
There are currently seven ACC players on the Mariners roster — Gonzalez, Drossner, the sophomore from Maryland, freshman infielder Cavan Biggio and junior left-hander Robert Youngdahl from Notre Dame, junior infielder Alex Perez from Virginia Tech, sophomore outfielder Skye Bolt from North Carolina, sophomore lefty Zack Erwin from Clemson — with two more to follow (Virginia junior infielder Kenny Towns and sophomore outfielder Joe McCarthy). It’s a big change and a change for the better from last summer with the Bourne Braves, where Gonzalez stood out as the lone ACC representative.
“I love it up here for sure,” he said. “I’m struggling at the plate a little bit but I’m starting to get out of that. But the town in beautiful and I love my teammates and the coaching staff and everything about up here.”
Gonzalez entered play Sunday hitting .258, and is showing signs of coming around offensively, having recorded back-to-back multi-hit games for the first time this summer.
His four hits in two games, Wednesday and Thursday, were one more than he had in his first five games combined and is pretty much right on schedule.
“You take a couple of weeks off and your timing is a bit off then switching to wood bats is always a little tougher,” he said. “But I feel like it only takes me about 30 at-bats to get back into it and I’m about there right now.”
His six at-bats on Wednesday at Hyannis, when he drove in his first run in four games, then five at-bats the next night against Chatham gave him 30 for the summer.
Thursday’s game, a dramatic 6-5, 10-inning win, in which the Mariners scored three runs to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth before walking off in the 10th, was extra exciting, as it came against the Anglers, Murray’s team.
Gonzalez admitted looking forward to playing against Murray.
“It’s definitely a blast. I talked to him [Wednesday] night, to see how he’s doing,” he said the day of the game. “He hit his `oppo’ home run and I congratulated him on that. I hope the best for him and I hope he plays a good game, but I hope we’ll be coming out with a win.”
That’s how the script played out, as Murray reached base twice, scored once and was central to two of the three innings in which Chatham scored, but Harwich came away with the win. Gonzalez had two singles — the second coming with two out and nobody on in the ninth, to jumpstart the three-run, game-tying rally.
They’d win it the next inning after. Gonzalez made the second out of the inning, striking out with the bases loaded but cheered hard, as VT’s Perez picked him up, following with the game-winning walk.
It’s been that kind of summer so far for Gonzalez in Harwich — a lot of great moments, like the late rallies, on the field and plenty to do off it.
“I love going to the gym here. We usually get a group of guys and go work out before the game and stuff,” he said, while actually on his way to the gym. “I love hanging out with my host family. I got lucky with a great host family and just hanging out with the guys.”
He’s also gotten to hang out with Murray, as Chatham is nearby. He hasn’t gone to the beach, but he said that can wait — especially the beach in Chatham.
“I’m not that big of a beach person. I want to go there at least once, though,” he said. “Chatham is where they filmed “Shark Week” and that’s where A.J. is. So I would definitely not go in the water there.”
Matt is fine if the closest he gets to the water is his team’s nickname, which these days is pretty good.
The Mariners are right where they want to be, heading into Saturday’s games at 7-2 and leading the East Division.
Gonzalez should help them stay there as he continues to get where he wants to be on his summer to-do list.
“I’d like to cut down on my strikeouts and just be a better two-strike hitter,” he said. “I’d like to work on my defense. I didn’t get to play much infield this year, so I’d like to work on that.”
While he struck out twice against Chatham, he also reached base three times, twice doing so with two strikes.
On the defensive side, he’s back on the infield, playing third and short, and has made only one error in 15 chances (a .938 fielding percentage). That’s after playing the outfield in 2014, where he ranked among the nation’s leaders in outfield assists (9).
“I just prefer to be on the field in any way I can,” he said. “Third base I felt more comfortable because that’s where I’ve played most of my life but towards the end of the season I loved the outfield. I felt real comfortable out there. So anywhere I can get on the field.”
Getting time at short is something of a homecoming as well.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played there but I have always loved playing short,” said Gonzalez, who played both at Harrison High School, where he also closed (a role in which so far he has not yet been called). “It’s kind of funny because a few years ago if people were to ask me what position I played I would have told them shortstop in a heartbeat. But now when people ask me I have to pause for a second to think about it, and usually just reply `Anywhere they need me.'”
As he’s proving in Harwich this summer, that also means with anyone.
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