When Marco Gonzales came to the Wenatchee AppleSox in the summer of 2010, he was just like any other baseball player in his position. Only 18, Gonzales was playing against college athletes for the first time in his baseball career.
That could have intimidated anyone. Gonzales was just looking to get in work before beginning school at Gonzaga in the fall. He could have come and gone with the blink of an eye like so many others do.
Before the summer of 2010, Gonzales had been drafted by the Colorado Rockies and could have gone pro immediately. Had he done this, he never would have played with Wenatchee.
Instead, Gonzales gained an eternal place in AppleSox history.
“It was truly one of the most special summers of my life,” Gonzales said.
In that summer, Gonzales led the league with 66 strikeouts and was a crucial part of the 2010 West Coast League Championship AppleSox squad.
Playing with the AppleSox not only gave Gonzales ample opportunity to prepare to be a college athlete, but to also grow as a person.
“You look back on it and you think, ‘wow, those were some pretty special times.’ Especially as a college kid or as a high-school kid going into there, you start learning things, learning lessons that teach you how to be a man on and off the field.
“Some of my best friends have come from that team, guys that I still talk to today.”
Gonzales followed up the summer by going to Gonzaga and continuing that summer success. In three years there, he won two co-West Coast Conference Player of the Year Awards, a Freshman of the Year Award, a WCC Pitcher of the Year Award and a John Olerud Award.
Following his junior season, Gonzales was drafted 19th overall in the MLB First-Year Player Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals.
Even with all the success in college, there have been roadblocks along the way for Gonzales as a professional. After making his major-league debut in 2014, the next three seasons were tumultuous. Nagging shoulder injuries in 2015 and Tommy John Surgery due to elbow pain in 2016 limited Gonzales to only one appearance.
He returned in 2017, but amidst a crowded Cardinals’ rotation. Gonzales started a game in June with St. Louis for his first appearance on a major-league mound since September 2015. It would be his final appearance with the team that drafted him.
The Cardinals shipped Gonzales to the Mariners a week before the 2017 trade deadline. It may have been the best thing to happen to Gonzales.
Adversity dealt Gonzales a harsh reality as a pro. However, he refused to let it define him. Gonzales said his “love of the game,” pushed him to keep persevering.
“I think I have such a passion for just being out there and contributing to a win,” Gonzales said. “I had no idea where this path would take me, but I think just fighting every day and finding something to get better at and just trying to keep that dream alive.”
This season, Gonzales is healthy and thriving. He leads the Mariners with nine wins and has a career-best 3.64 ERA. He’s tossed six or more innings in 13 of his 18 starts and is a huge part of the Mariners playoff push in 2018.
Health has been a huge part of Gonzales’s season, but he has also changed his mindset.
“I think I just made a good mental shift this year,” Gonzales said. “I’m staying aggressive, I’m attacking guys, I’m not shying away. I’m not trying to be timid out there, just really attack the zone and give us a chance to win, ultimately.”
The crown achievement of the season thus far was when Gonzales tossed a complete game in a 4-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals on June 29. Gonzales struck out seven, allowed six hits and didn’t walk any batters.
After getting out of an early jam, Gonzales only felt stronger as the game went on.
"I think from the first inning on, after I picked that guy off of second base, I felt like ‘ok, I can start rolling here. We can start filling up the zone,’ and my arm was feeling great.”
Entering the season, the Mariners gave Gonzales a huge vote of confidence. Manager Scott Servais named the Gonzaga southpaw a starter during Spring Training, thus entrusting Gonzales with a hefty burden.
“The fact that I’m put out there every fifth day,” Gonzales said, “means I have a big responsibility in getting us a win. I take pride in preparing for that every fifth day and just doing my work every day to make sure that I’m healthy.”
Even with all the success since and the brief time he spent here, Gonzales is still grateful for his summer in Wenatchee. He made a point to give his host family, Rob and Tracy Thompson, a shoutout. Rob and Tracy also hosted Marco’s younger brother, Alex, who spent the 2016 and 2017 seasons with the AppleSox.
As Gonzales continues his already impressive baseball career and looks to help lead the Mariners to their first playoff berth since 2001, he still hasn’t forgotten about Wenatchee and his special 2010 summer here.
“It was very special times and I’m very thankful for it,” Gonzales said. “The people that are there is what I’ll remember most.”