Rich Gonzales was in line to be the hero for the Rancho Santiago College baseball team this spring.
He was supposed to lead Rancho Santiago in the fight for the Orange Empire Conference title. He was one of two sophomore position players returning and, along with pitcher David Tellers, was on the cover of the team's media guide.
But that was before Bobby Hamelin arrived. Hamelin transferred to Rancho Santiago from UCLA last January and took over Gonzales' spot at first base, leaving Gonzales as the designated hitter with an occasional appearance in left field.
Hamelin's achievements have overshadowed the play of Gonzales and other Rancho Santiago players.
Hamelin, who bats third, has 22 home runs and 83 RBIs and is hitting .524 for Rancho Santiago, Southern California's top-ranked team.
Gonzales, who bats fourth, is better known as the guy who is such a good hitter that teams must pitch to Hamelin.
But his numbers also are impressive. He is hitting .458 with 2 home runs and 46 RBIs.
"It really does take a lot of the pressure off me having Hamelin here," Gonzales said. "During the fall, I tried to maybe do a little too much because I felt like I might have to carry the team a little."
Cypress found out just how difficult it is to get around these two in Rancho Santiago's 11-10 victory on April 19.
Cypress walked Hamelin intentionally to get to Gonzales with Rancho Santiago leading, 3-2, in the fifth inning. Gonzales hit a three-run home run.
In the sixth inning, Cypress decided to pitch to Hamelin, and he hit a three-run home run.
"With Rich going so well, teams can't really pitch around me," Hamelin said earlier this season. "He makes a lot of things possible because teams can't just only worry about me."
Gonzales came to Rancho Santiago after he first attended Oregon State, where he earned a scholarship to play football.
He was the Southern Section 2-A player of the year in baseball for Diamond Bar in 1985, when he pitched and played first base.
In the fall of '84, he was Diamond Bar's starting quarterback and led the team to the Southeastern Conference title.
As a freshman at Oregon State, he started seven varsity games at quarterback. When spring came, he planned to play baseball, but the football coaches told him to play spring football if he wanted to keep his spot.
"They had promised I could play both and I didn't, so I left," Gonzales said.
Gonzales decided to attend a community college, where he could play baseball as a freshman and not have to sit out a year.
Denis Paul, Gonzales' high school coach, suggested Mt. San Antonio, Citrus and Rancho Santiago colleges. Gonzales considered all three and picked Rancho Santiago.
As a first baseman and designated hitter last season, he hit .375 with one home run and 16 RBIs. As a pitcher, he was 1-1 with four saves.
Don Sneddon, Rancho Santiago coach, first saw Gonzales in the 2-A title game when Diamond Bar defeated Mission Viejo, 3-2.
"He was a dream then," Sneddon said. "We never had any idea we could get a player of that caliber. He was signed and off to Oregon State as far as we knew, but you never know who you will have a chance at, I guess."
Community College Notes
Julie Slattery of Orange Coast advanced to the final of the community college singles division at the Ojai tennis tournament Sunday but was unable to play the final match because of darkness. Slattery will play Shelly Breedon of Glendale May 3 at Ojai before OCC starts play in the Southern California regionals at Ventura May 4.