Soon after being taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft, Alonzo Gonzalez realized his life had changed drastically.
Not just because of the increased potential to someday make a lucrative living and a name for himself competing at the highest level of his game, which appears to be a realistic aspiration after an impressive minor-league debut for the left-handed pitcher, but in the more immediate sense of going from a college student to a professional baseball player in a matter of weeks.
"Adjusting to that lifestyle, it's definitely something that you as a player kind of just have to come to terms with, that you're not going to have a summer, you're not going to be able to go out all the time just like your buddies back at home can," says Gonzalez, who enjoyed a standout season at Glendale Community College last spring. "This is our job and after games, for the most part, a lot of us are just dead tired."
But while Gonzalez may have had his last summer of leisure for some time to come, it's likely none of the guys his age back home can say they've been able to do the things Gonzalez has this summer.
"I'm truly blessed to be in the position that I'm in," Gonzalez says. "You get to see a bunch of guys that if you follow baseball, you read about these people you hear about how great they are and people who have signed multi-million dollar deals and you're playing against them.
"Meeting the group of guys [on the team] is great, you're meeting people from all over and I feel like the experience is really one in a million."
Gonzalez made his professional debut on June 26 with the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays in Florida and pitched there for six weeks before being moved up on Aug. 14 to the advanced rookie-ball level in West Virginia with the Bluefield Blue Jays of the Appalachian League.
In Bluefield, he never allowed a run in 12 innings of work there, going 2-0 in back-to-back six-inning starts, while giving up only three hits, striking out nine and walking three.
"I started pitching well and I felt like I really hit my stride toward the last month and a half of the season," says Gonzalez, whose season ended on Aug. 28. "It sucked that it had to end, but I'm happy to say that it ended on a high note and I'm super eager to get back and continue throwing well."
For now, Gonzalez will be doing his throwing at a monthlong instructional clinic at the Blue Jays' training complex in Dunedin, Fla. beginning Sept. 18. There, Gonzalez will receive personalized instruction from Blue Jays pitching coaches with an eye toward accelerating his development for next season.
"That's huge, they're putting more time and effort into him, so that's something that he should be really excited about," says Glendale college baseball Coach Chris Cicuto, who has followed Gonzalez' rise avidly.
Although projected to be a starter as a draft pick, Gonzalez saw his first professional action out of the bullpen in a series of "piggyback" relief appearances in which a starter would pitch the first three innings and then Gonzalez would go three before handing it over to the bullpen, all with the goal of stretching him out for longer outings.
"I was really excited, I can't really even put into words how the night before was," Gonzalez says of making his pro debut, in which he would allow just one run on one hit in three innings. "I wouldn't say I was nervous, more eager to get out there. I knew that I was going to be facing good talent up and down the lineup from American and international players, but once I stepped on the mound and I threw my warm-up pitches and the first guy came in I kind of just told myself to throw first-pitch strikes because that's one of the things the Blue Jays really forces on us pitchers. But also to really just trust myself and to trust that whatever I was doing to get to this point was obviously working."
Trusting himself, Gonzalez went 3-3 with a 5.15 earned-run average over 10 games (seven starts) in the Gulf Coast League to earn a promotion.
Matt Dean, also a first-year pro who played his entire rookie season in Bluefield, says Gonzalez was a welcome addition to the squad.
"It was fun [having him on the team]," Dean says. "The kid's a competitor. He only gave up a few hits, no runs, so you know the guy's pretty good. Once he gets on the bump, he likes to compete and it's always fun playing with guys like that.
"I think he handled [being called up] really well. He showed that he could pitch at that level. It was good for him to be able to do that and it also helped our team out, as well. It would have been nicer if we had had him the whole year."
A native of Santa Monica, Gonzalez had to adapt to the routine of shuttling from town to town up and down the rural southeastern United States via team bus.
"We have three-and-a-half hour bus trips to different states, we're driving in the middle of nowhere and the only thing around us is trees and little shacks here and there," Gonzalez said. "But I got adjusted to it real quick. I just told myself, 'This is your job, this is what you're going to have to do.' You've got to go through the trenches before you can emerge victorious.
"I definitely have more of a grasp of the minor league lifestyle. I have some sort of a feel of what it would be like in the majors, but I truly feel you can't really get a full grasp of that until you finally get there."
For Gonzalez, getting there figures to be more of a process than an overnight leap, as he's still got numerous levels of the minor league system to pass through before he's viewed as a full-fledged major league pitching prospect. But, with the grounded attitude, confident-yet-humble approach and willingness to challenge hitters in any situation that Dean and Cicuto have observed, he's already opened plenty of eyes.
"The whole [GCC] staff's been kind of keeping tabs on him," Cicuto says. "We knew when he left that he's a professional pitcher, it's just a matter of how quick he would mature and develop. It seems like once he got that opportunity to get out there he just really took advantage of it."Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times