Injured Player Back and Swinging

Josh Horton, Reporter

Just over one year ago MU graduate student Andy Gonzalez was in a car accident, which had doctors worrying whether or not they could save his life, let alone his baseball career.

He suffered a C2 vertebra fracture – an injury Gonzalez didn’t know was so serious. He thought he would be back on the diamond by the end of the season.

Instead he spent the month of April in a halo brace, while sitting in the dugout watching his team win its third consecutive MAC Championship.

Head baseball coach Pete Egbert went to see his catcher lying in a hospital bed, surrounded by doctors telling Gonzalez his days of crouching behind the plate were over.

He wanted to make sure his coach knew he wouldn’t be making the day’s practice. Gonzalez also wanted Egbert to know he would be back on the field again. He didn’t care what anyone said.

“I got to the hospital and he could barely talk and he just wanted me to know he wasn’t going to be at practice today,” Egbert said with a wide grin. “His determination in the offseason was just incredible and when he came back for the second semester I knew that now it would be a reality. He proved me wrong on top of anyone else that questioned him.”

The comeback was complete on March 2 when Gonzalez stepped into the batter box against John Jay College in Florida, knocking a single into left field, which was greeted with an eruption from the Cougar’s dugout.

At the time it was just another hit in another game. The emotions set in afterwards.

“The dugout was going crazy after I got that hit,” Gonzalez said. “I was so into the game I wasn’t really thinking about it. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss a sign. After the game it kind of sunk in and I told myself I still got it and I was going to be OK.”

His yearlong trek to get back in the box was complete, but he knew it as soon as he got off the plane in Florida.

“Going to Florida is a traditional thing for the team, because we go and everyone’s family is there. We get to play some good baseball and it’s just kind of like a family Christmas that you miss one year,” Gonzalez said. “It’s real sad, but you come back the next year and it’s nice. Just getting off that plane, even before getting to the field, just walking to the hotel was like the best feeling ever.”

His feelings couldn’t always be categorized as the best feelings ever. There were times when he questioned whether it was all worth it, or even whether he could do it.

The worries wore on Gonzalez, causing him to lock himself in his townhouse with no lights on and the door locked so he could try to figure things out.

“It was a dark time and I was really upset. The team was having a great season and all I could think about was my run is done. I felt helpless and hopeless,” Gonzalez said.

It was a short phase, thanks to something his dad told him.

“I talked with my parents and my dad said Gonzalez don’t quit. I took that to heart and woke up the next morning and told myself I had to try,” an emotional Gonzalez said. “I came this far, a few more weeks is nothing when you have plenty of time.”

Another dark time came when his doctors couldn’t tell whether the injuries were healing on their own, or if he would need a neck fusion.

“When I got that news I thought it was going to be pretty much over. The fear at that time was that it wasn’t going to heal on its own and that I might have to get a neck fusion, which would have ended my career,” Gonzalez said. “This can’t work and I need to throw in the towel.”

Instead of throwing in the towel he can now fire a baseball down to second base to catch an opposing runner attempting to steal second.

The throws may not be quite as strong as they once were, but the fact he is playing collegiate baseball is enough to amaze his coach.

“He is a lot closer today than he was yesterday, and he was a lot closer yesterday than he was the day before. We see that every day, he is getting better and better,” Egbert said. “I think that is one of the things he lost sight of in all of this.”

As with all ballplayers, Gonzalez has his good and bad days. The only difference is that no other player has a photo of himself lying a hospital bed posted in his lockers to provide motivation.

“I hung a picture in the locker room of me lying in the hospital bed and I look at it and remember how badly I wanted to be back on that field,” Gonzalez said. “Now that I am physically able to play, how could I look at that picture and quit? I thought my career was over and I never want to feel that way again.”

It wasn’t just a baseball lesson he had learned but also a life lesson, one he feels many people need before it’s too late.

“You take little things like that for granted. Once it’s gone, you find out how much you enjoy doing it,” Gonzalez said. “I hang that picture up and it helps me remember that it could be gone real quick again.”

Now he knows if he ever loses something, he has the strength to get it back. Nothing can get in his way.

Gonzales knows this because he never quit.

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