Winthrop University

Hard-working Winthrop catcher Gonzalez does it all

Winthrop catcher Roger Gonzalez holds the runner at first base as Winthrop faced Charlotte recently at BB&T BallPark.
Winthrop catcher Roger Gonzalez holds the runner at first base as Winthrop faced Charlotte recently at BB&T BallPark. Special to The Herald

When Winthrop senior baseball catcher Roger Gonzalez’s interests, abilities and hobbies are described in one sentence, he almost sounds like a comic book hero:

“Team leader and offensive weapon who befriended a pediatric leukemia survivor, all while conducting biomedical research en route to becoming an orthopedic surgeon.”

One more thing: “And likes to fish.”

Since arriving before the 2015 season, Gonzalez has been one of Winthrop’s most productive offensive players and has become a leader on the team in his short time with the program. He’s also been credited with one of the highest work ethics on the team.

In the classroom, Gonzalez is taking 15 credit hours (after taking 18 last semester) and plans to graduate with a degree in biology. With his earliest class starting at 9 a.m., he seems to go nonstop between the classroom and the baseball field.

“I’m also doing some research now, so either go back to the lab and get some research done or go back and get some studying done,” he said of his usual post-practice plans.

A matter of luck

Gonzalez grew up in Miami but was actually born in Cuba, where his grandparents were political prisoners and both of his parents were cardiologists earning $20 a month. The grim circumstances led his father to flee the country when Gonzalez was 3, going from Venezuela to the United States. Eventually though, the family would be reunited, all thanks to a little luck in the country’s visa lottery.

“One of my dad’s really good friends won it,” Gonzalez said.

“So what my dad did was he called him and said ‘Hey look, this is what we’re going to do. I know you don’t have the money for it but I’m going to pay you $20,000 to marry my wife and bring my kids and my wife over.’”

A few paperwork filings and a remarriage later, the family was finally ready to resettle in a better life, and the young Gonzalez was about to make a splash on diamonds of South Florida.

Bienvenido a Miami

Gonzalez went on to become a three-year letterman in high school before signing to play college ball at the University of Miami. He hit .300 in 40 at-bats for the Hurricanes and even made an appearance in a 2013 ACC tournament game against N.C. State.

“It’s something that I’ll never take for granted, it was always my dream school,” he said.

After the 2013 season, Miami wanted Gonzalez to move to second base in favor of a high-prospect catcher coming in, but he was determined on staying behind the plate and managing the game. That led him to transfer to Santa Fe College, where he played on the junior college circuit during the 2014 season.

It wouldn’t be long before he caught the eye of the Winthrop program.

“At that time we didn’t really have a need for a catcher,” said head coach Tom Riginos. “As things went on in that 2014 season, it looked like we were going to need another catcher. So we started talking to Roger and he had a really, really good sophomore year at Santa Fe and the communication kept on going and as it started getting closer to the end of the year, we kind of said he was our guy.”

All settled in

Gonzalez was called an “aggressive” type of personality by Riginos, and his chemistry with the Winthrop pitchers seems to be reflected in that.

“He demands that kind of excellence,” said senior pitcher Sam Kmiec. “He’s a guy you can trust and when he’s calling a game, he really helps you get in a flow and a rhythm out there.”

Gonzalez has also been an offensive catalyst for the team over the past two seasons. After a sub-.300 year hitting at Santa Fe, Gonzalez finished third in hitting last season for Winthrop, batting .355 with 31 RBI and two home runs.

This year, despite Winthrop’s recent five-game skid ahead of a weekend series with Radford at Winthrop Ballpark, he remains a top-three hitter on the team; batting over .300 with a team-leading 30 RBI.

A capable switch-hitter, Gonzalez credits his ability in the batter’s box to confidence and quick hands, and a clear mind at the plate.

Leaving an impact

Gonzalez is just as able away from the ballpark.

The research he mentioned earlier is focused on bone biomechanics. He is comparing the femur and humerus (front leg and back leg) of whitetail deer, looking for a correlation between the percentage of elements that make up bone and bone strength.

“We broke down the bones, got them into ash, burned them and got the percentages out of them. Then we put it in a machine that actually tests how strong it is,” Gonzalez said.

Occasionally he also finds time to fish out on Lake Wylie. He said he’s caught catfish and bass. Being around water is one of the things he misses most about being away from Miami.

Recently, Gonzalez developed a bond with Fort Mill resident Chase Kent, a 6-year-old Leukemia survivor who was drafted to the Winthrop team last December thanks in part to the organization Team IMPACT.

Gonzalez said Chase was a little shy at first, but soon began to open up and eventually the captain took the littlest Eagle under his wing.

“I think Chase really gravitated towards Roger,” Riginos said. “And then Roger took to him and the relationship has just kind of evolved. They came out a couple more times and he actually asked for Roger.”

Their relationship hit a peak back on April 5, when Gonzalez caught a first pitch thrown by Chase before the Eagles’ game at BB&T BallPark against UNC Charlotte. He said it was special for him because he got to be with his young friend on one of the bigger stages the Eagles have played on in recent years.

As for life after Winthrop, Gonzalez hopes to have his named called in this year’s MLB Draft, but has a plan if things don’t work out.

“If it doesn’t then it’s time to put the cleats away and go back to school and go be a doctor,” he said.

Gonzalez would specifically like to be an orthopedic surgeon.

“I always want to help people out, and that’s something that’s true and deep to my heart.”