All those days growing up taking ground balls from Dad until the sun went down. All those games last spring stuck on the bench. All those losses last summer while his friends were racking up wins.
Vince Gonzalez considers it all worth the effort.
And whatever happens this weekend at the Class 3A baseball state championships, it already has paid off handsomely.
“It’s been super fun,” the Kennewick senior said. “Playing short every game has been awesome. It’s been really fun with the kids we have this year, especially the 17-year-olds we have. It’s been a blast.”
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It would be even better if Kennewick can add its second state title to the mix.
The Lions (21-3) put their championship dreams on the line at 1 p.m. today at Gesa Stadium in the semifinals against Auburn Mountainview (24-3) in a matchup of highly regarded teams. Mountainview finished atop the final state baseball poll, and Kennewick was No. 2.
The winner moves on to Saturday’s 4 p.m. title game against either Mount Si (18-5) or West Seattle (20-5).
Win or lose for Kennewick, it is hard to look at Gonzalez’s story as anything but a success.
“He started playing as a freshman, and I coached him in the summer,” said Lions coach A.J. Marquardt. “The effort was always there, he just needed to grow a bit, mature into his body. He’s done that.”
At 5-foot-10 and 150 pounds, Gonzalez has grown some six inches and 35 pounds. And he has flourished in an unenviable task — taking over at short following four years of Trek Stemp, now a standout freshman at Washington State.
“The best thing Vinny has done is not worrying about being Trek, being Trek’s replacement,” Marquardt said. “He’s just being Vinny. And the guy that takes his spot next year will have to live up to his standards.”
Just being Vinny has meant a lot to the Lions.
First, Gonzalez has been a rock in the second spot in the order. He’s often called on to move along leadoff hitter Steven Sordahl so that JJ Hancock, Clayten Ayres or Dylan Wilbert can drive in the run.
And when they need a big hit, like his RBI double in the first inning of the district finals against Southridge, he has delivered to the tune of a .314 average with six doubles and just four strikeouts in 86 at-bats.
But without question, defense has been his trademark, and Gonzalez has become one of the slickest fielders in the Mid-Columbia Conference. Last weekend’s state quarterfinal — again, against Southridge — was a showcase game, where he started a double play, threw a runner out at home and ranged deep into the hole to throw a runner out at first and save a run. He finished the play standing in shallow left field.
But mostly, he makes the routine look exactly that — routine, committing just three errors in 132 chances this season for a sparkling .977 fielding percentage.
“I’m just going to go out there and play every game the best I can,” Gonzalez said. “I knew I was going to have to step up my game because of who was there last year.
“They needed someone to come after Trek, needed someone to step up and makes plays up the middle.”
Gonzalez said he learned a lot as he waited his turn behind upperclassmen. He also gave a lot of credit to his dad, Vince III, for putting in the time as he was growing up. Athletics, said Vince IV, come from Dad’s side of the family — twin sister Alyssa and little sisters Julissa and Clarissa all play softball and volleyball — while his talent with the guitar and bass comes from his mom Lisa’s side of the family.
But he said last summer also played an important role. When it looked like he was not going to make the Kennewick Senior Bandits American Legion team, he joined the Pasco Sun Devils. The Bandits finished second in the league at 16-8, the Sun Devils went 2-22.
“I’m so used to winning, and, wow, we lost almost every game,” said Gonzalez, noting that it was not an embarrassing experience. “I thought I had a pretty good summer.
“I saw varsity pitching — super-good varsity pitching and other players. The (Twin City) Titans and Bandits are stacked with really, really good players. But we still were playing competitive. I think it helped me, even though we were losing most games, it helped me stay on track, stay above the game and play almost every game at shortstop.”
It led to an offer to play ball at Corban University, an NAIA school in Salem, Ore. Between sports and working part-time at Yokes, Gonzalez found time to get his Associate Arts degree and already has two years of schooling under his belt.
Gonzalez is hoping to do a little schooling of his own this weekend and show the Lions are a championship-calibur team. And he doesn’t expect any big-stage nerves to get in the way.
“Honestly, I think we’re ready,” he said. “I’ve been ready since last weekend, ever since we beat Southridge.
“Everyone is excited. Everyone is fired up for (today). It’s the most important game of the season.”
State notes: Today’s 3A games are all about the Lions and Wildcats. Both Kennewick and Auburn Mountainview are nicknamed the Lions, and Mount Si and West Seattle both are Wildcats. ... Mountainview is coming off a pair of close wins in last weekend’s state play, 2-0 and 9-8. This is the third state appearance for the 8-year-old school, but the program’s first state wins. ... Auburn is led by South Puget Sound League MVP Nick Brooks, a pitcher/first baseman who went 10-0 in 10 starts with a 1.44 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 63 innings pitched on the mound. He also hit .549 (45-for-82) with 13 doubles, four homers and 42 RBIs. He is signed to play NWAACC ball for Pierce College. ... In the 4A ranks, South Kitsap (20-5) and Kentwood (21-5) play at 4 p.m. today, with Kentridge (20-8) and Skyview (20-6) meeting at 7. Kentwood, aiming for a repeat title and third in four years, lost to South Kitsap 11-1 in a recent district game.