Almost a year after tearing his ACL, the sophomore shortstop has developed a new batting stance that has brought success.
Out at Bob Sorenson Fields in Ocoee, the Legacy Charter baseball team gets in a practice on a stifling hot day.
They go through their stretches and warm-ups before taking some batting practice to work on their swings.
Among them is Alex Gonzalez — the sophomore starting shortstop who happens to be one of the better hitters on the team, despite the major setback last year that almost derailed his young baseball career.
On the first day of spring break last year, the then-Ocoee High freshman was outside enjoying a game of basketball when he landed awkwardly. Just like that, Gonzalez had torn his ACL.
“It was rough,” Gonzalez said. “Physically, at first, I was really getting tired — I was like, ‘When am I going to be able to play baseball again?’ And mentally I was like, ‘I want to be back on the field.’ But my doctors and therapists were always telling me, ‘If you don’t want to tear it again, you’re going to wanna wait.’”
No athlete wants to hear the words “be patient” when it comes to getting back to his or her sport, but Gonzalez had to be if he wanted to get back to 100%.
What followed was surgery to repair his knee on May 5, 2018, and then nine long months of rehabbing.
The physical aspect alone was difficult enough, but it was the mental part of the rehab that truly was draining, Gonzalez said. Slowly working up the strength in his leg was time consuming, and he wasn’t even allowed to start running until five months after the surgery.
Both his reprieve from the process and first taste of baseball came three months into his rehab, after he was able to remove his knee brace.
“I just started throwing with my dad, just to remember how to throw and get that muscle memory back — simple stuff like that,” Gonzalez said. “Then when six months hit, as soon as I was able to jog, I was on the treadmill every day trying to get back in shape and get ready for baseball season. Every step I took, I had to take it to another level to be sure that I was ready.”
Gonzalez knew coming into his first year at Legacy that he would be cutting it close. Luckily, he got the green light before the start of the season.
“Physically, at first, I was really getting tired — I was like, ‘When am I going to be able to play baseball again?’ And mentally I was like, ‘I want to be back on the field.’ But my doctors and therapists were always telling me, ‘If you don’t want to tear it again, you’re going to wanna wait.’”
— Alex Gonzalez
But in those early practices, he could tell something was off. Before his knee injury, Gonzalez had utilized a closed-off batting stance in travel ball that had been working well, but now, it just wasn’t.
He didn’t know whether it was the time off or the constant worry he had about his knee holding up, but Gonzalez knew something had to change.
“His normal batting stance is to have his toes pretty much lined up, but he — with his left foot — would step forward significantly and then when he would swing; he was fighting against himself,” said head coach Jack Chambless. “His hips would rotate, but his front foot was so far forward, he couldn’t make good contact, and I think that it was starting to shake his confidence a little bit.”
That’s when Chambless decided to take him aside and talk to him about opening up his stance a bit more.
Recalling MLB player Carney Lansford of the Oakland A’s, whose stance was so open that he could see the pitcher with both eyes, Chambless began working with Gonzalez on changing things up.
Despite the difficulty and adjustments that came with totally going about his hitting in a different manner, Chambless said Gonzalez was always open to advice.
“Instead of talking back or just shaking his head and going back to what he wanted to do, he did something that is hard for a lot of teenagers to do, which is to listen,” Chambless said. “Sometimes, you’ll have kids three to four years, and they’re no different their fourth year than they are their first, because they are just reluctant to listen.
“But he was willing to listen, and then things started to click in batting practice at first, and then in increasing the opportunities he got to play into games, it just all fell into place,” he said. “Now he is in the lineup every day and is just wearing the pitchers out.”
His stance now sees Gonzalez start off open — with his front foot open — before closing up as the ball arrives at the plate.
Although it takes batters an extended period of time to get used to the mechanics of a new stance, Gonzalez has made it look easy. Despite only using the new stance for just a few months, he already has racked up a .430-plus average — the best on the team.
There’s still plenty of time left in the season to ratchet up those numbers, but following his injury, Gonzalez said he relishes most the opportunity to play the game he loves and be a part of the Eagles baseball team.
“I love playing baseball,” Gonzalez said. “It’s one of the things that I probably couldn’t live without.”