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‘Keep truckin’: Dash’s Ivan Gonzalez taking his baseball journey one step at a time

June 6, 2023

Ivan Gonzalez squared his hips, took a slight hunch toward the dirt and burst into the air. The 26-year-old snared a line drive in acrobatic fashion, and he made sure everyone knew about it. “Not over here!” Gonzalez shouted from near second base. Granted, it was only batting practice, but

Ivan Gonzalez squared his hips, took a slight hunch toward the dirt and burst into the air. The 26-year-old snared a line drive in acrobatic fashion, and he made sure everyone knew about it.

“Not over here!” Gonzalez shouted from near second base.

Granted, it was only batting practice, but the West Virginia University product is a catcher by trade. When he’s taking reps in the field, he tends to display a penchant for extravagance. It’s just his second season with the Winston-Salem Dash, but you would think Gonzalez has been around Truist Stadium for over a decade — he oozes a veteran presence.

Like most, his route to this point hasn’t been easy. From stints in rookie ball to the Single-A Kannapolis Cannon Ballers to Winston-Salem to the Double-A Birmingham Barons back to the Dash, Gonzalez is well-traveled. Of course, the 2019 Chicago White Sox 8th-round draft pick learned a thing or two along the way.

Maybe the most important? The necessity of a positive mentality.

“I’ve always been one of those guys that shows up every day and has the high energetic vibe going on,” Gonzalez said. “I think it comes with being a catcher. Ever since I was a young age, a lot of my coaches said that you run the defense and everybody feeds off your energy. The sprint from the dugout to home plate means a lot and it can change the momentum of the game.”

As one of the older players on the team, Gonzalez can offer wisdom on a daily basis. His approach to the sport, and something he instills in the younger players, is to not take everything too seriously.

“It’s a long season. A lot of the guys go through ups and downs, injuries, and you got to remember it’s just a game,” Gonzalez said. “That’s one of those things that the older you get, the more you understand and the more it relates to life.”

Added Gonzalez: “You got to keep in mind that tomorrow’s a new day. You know we got 100 or so games left. Just keep truckin’ and take one step after another.”

He’s a clubhouse favorite, and for good reason. It’s hard not to feel giddy as he walks around belting the Beastie Boys’ “Fight for Your Right.” No one sets a tone quite like Gonzo, as his teammates call him.

To Gonzalez, his rise from Stony Point High School in Round Rock, Texas to professional ball isn’t by chance. It’s easy to see the work he puts in on a day-to-day basis. In the cages. In conditioning. He’s always giving 100%.

Gonzalez is listed at 5-foot-6 in his MiLB player bio. He doesn’t embody the typical perceptions of what a catcher should look like. When he makes his sprint from the dugout to the dish, though, there’s a switch that instantly flips.

“I’m not a big guy. I’m not your typical six-foot catcher,” Gonzalez said. “I always took it to heart. As soon as they say, ‘play ball’, I play like I’m six-foot-five. I make it known. It’s one of those things I’ve always had with me.”

Nonetheless, it certainly hasn’t been smooth sledding for Gonzalez at every turn. He’s been dealing with nagging injuries for a few seasons now. After playing for five different teams since his time at West Virginia, he’s gained some perspective.

Getting down on himself simply isn’t an option.

“It’s tough going through injuries. You just keep moving forward. Keep bringing the positive with you,” Gonzalez said. “Obviously, there’s going to be negatives but you can’t let that control you.”

“But one of those things is that you know you’re gonna get called off the bench and it’s your job. You have to be prepared. You can’t take any day for granted. In my head, I show up to the ballpark thinking I’m going to start that day,” added Gonzalez.

It’s unique, sure, but Gonzalez serves a distinct role. He’s not a slugger, not an on-base machine and doesn’t have the most tantalizing physical tools. But there’s a purpose in bringing the “vibe” to the team, as he says.

In the 2017 NCAA Tournament, when Gonzalez was a sophomore at West Virginia, he was in the midst of a highly productive collegiate campaign. He was named to the Johnny Bench Award List for the nation’s top catcher and finished second on the team with a .317 batting average.

A No. 2 seed in the Gainesville Super Regional, there were high hopes for Gonzalez and the Mountaineers. They ran into No. 1 seed Wake Forest in the NCAA Regional final and endured a near-two-hour rain delay before the win-or-go-home affair.

Nerves could definitely play a factor — it isn’t easy to just sit around before a game of those proportions. Gonzalez knew what he had to do.

“I just got up and said, ‘Hey, we’re here, I might as well.’ I started screaming and got the vibes up,” Gonzalez said with a chuckle. “Our song was “Freestyle” by Lil Baby, so we played it up. You kind of know when the guys need it and when they don’t, so you read the room.”

West Virginia ultimately fell, putting an end to an otherwise immensely successful season, but Gonzalez’s contributions didn’t go unnoticed. Even through difficult times, he was undoubtedly woven into the fabric of the team’s culture.

After winning six consecutive series to start the 2023 season, the Dash took a bit of a slide, dropping nine of their next 12 games. Gonzalez knows those rough patches can happen. More than anything, he wants to win. But on an individual level, he just wants to stay healthy. To “be there for the boys,” he said.

Heading into the final three months of a grueling season, there will certainly be challenges for everyone. Gonzalez may not know where baseball is going to take him, but he knows one thing is for sure.

He will be there every step of the way, “always bringing the vibes and always energetic around the guys.”