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There are about 300 Division I college baseball teams.
That translates to more than 8,000 players.
Only one of those, however, can be named player of the year.
And that player for 2020 is a New Mexico State University Aggie.
Collegiate Baseball Newspaper last week named Aggie junior Nick Gonzales as its 2020 National Player of the Year.
Gonzales is no stranger to national accolades. He was a first team All-American last year as a sophomore, and named a freshman All-American in 2018. In addition, He was named a 2020 preseason All-American, and was the National Player of the Month in both February 2019 and February 2020.
The Aggies’ last four home games of the season, Feb. 27-March 1, against Purdue-Fort Wayne, provided a perfect showcase for Gonzales’ skills. During that series, Gonzales was 7-for-15 from the plate, with five home runs, 8 runs scored, 10 RBI, 6 walks and 3 stolen bases.
The triple is often called “the most exciting hit in baseball.” And while it is very exciting, it’s one base less exciting than the inside-the-park home run. And when the inside-the-park homer is a grand slam, well, that tops it all. And that’s exactly what Gonzales did Feb. 29, a day he finished with five homers as NMSU swept a double-header.
Gonzales finished the pandemic-shortened 16-game season with 12 homers, 36 RBI, 21 walks, and five stolen bases, helping the Aggies assemble a 12-4 record. In addition, Gonzales plays arguably the toughest defensive position, shortstop. In the field, he handled 71 chances with only two errors, for a .972 fielding percentage. He has a nation’s best on-base streak of 82 consecutive games.
And, oh yeah, he also joined Aggie teammate Tristan Peterson on the College Sports Information Directors of America 2020 Academic All-District Team. Gonzales is majoring in individualized studies, with a 3.33 GPA, and was an academic All-Western Athletic Conference honoree last year.
Gonzales attended Cienega High School in Vail, Arizona, about 20 miles southeast of Tucson.
Each year, I attend a handful of Aggie baseball games, and it’s one of my favorite things to do in Las Cruces. The Organ Mountains loom beyond the outfield fence and, if it’s a night game, you can see the moon rise. And in the daytime, coverings at the stadium minimize direct sunlight on fans. I regret I didn’t make it to any games this year, especially during that Gonzales showcase weekend.
Years ago, while still in college at Oklahoma State University, I covered the OSU baseball team, which that year also had a national player of the year, Pete Incaviglia, and the Cowboys’ coach was NMSU grad and Hall of Famer Gary Ward. Watching Incaviglia then, and Gonzales now, was like watching a man among boys, the way they could dominate the diamond and, at the same time, have a great time on the field and inspire their teammates.
Congrats, Nick, and Go Aggies!