Joseph Gonzalez grew up playing baseball on the calm and quiet fields near the mountainous woods of Mariana, a small barrio in his hometown of Humacao, Puerto Rico. Gonzalez, now in his third year of college, is long separated from his low-key life in Humacao, becoming a regular name uttered by Auburn baseball fans.
Mariana sits on the east coast of Puerto Rico and is the home of 3,000 people. Residents of Mariana are scattered through forests and hills, unlike The Plains of Auburn where the population seems to grow exponentially. Gonzalez has made a monster leap from his small-town atmosphere to living in the heart of a growing city with all eyes on him.
Gonzalez moved to the mainland United States when he was 18-years-old to start his collegiate career at Auburn University. He did not find it easy getting adjusted to the area upon arrival with limited English-speaking abilities and few people who could understand him.
“My first language is Spanish, so my freshman year I struggled with English, and that was tough for me,” Gonzalez said.
Before joining the Tigers, Gonzalez was highly scouted and recruited coming out of high school. The San Diego Padres, who are well-known for their deep farm system, were one of the teams that scouted him. Even though so many eyes were on him, he never imagined himself making it as far as he has.
“At the beginning, I was a little nervous, because it’s not normal for scouts to go watch specific players,” Gonzalez said. “After the first time I got used to it, but I didn’t envision myself coming to college or signing or getting drafted or whatever.”
After arriving at Auburn, Gonzalez quickly grew into his shell as a highly-rated college prospect. In his second year with the team, he threw a complete gam against Vanderbilt, the first Auburn pitcher to do so in two years. The game was special in itself, but there was one thing that made it more special for him.
“It was crazy because my family only comes once a year to watch me play, and that game was the weekend they came to watch,” Gonzalez said.
Strong and close families are a common theme seen in Latin American culture. Gonzalez reiterated this saying that it was great having his family there for one of his best performances. But he knew that even if he struggled, they would still support him and give him confidence to get up and keep going.
Though he enjoys when his family comes into town and brings some of their culture with them, Gonzalez wishes that there were more opportunities to meet people like him in Auburn.
“I have met like two Hispanic people at Tekila in downtown, but that’s about it. I haven’t met many students or anything,” Gonzalez said. “I think the university should make activities and events to help Hispanic students feel more welcome and involved.”
Gonzalez is a part of one of the smallest populations at Auburn. With just over 1,000 students, Hispanic people make up only 4% of the student body. Though the Hispanic population is so low at Auburn, Gonzalez is hoping to see change.
“Hispanic Heritage Month is important to me because it is great to remember people and to recognize us, but at the same time I feel like that should be normal and something that happens every day,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez looks up to the wide array of Puerto Rican athletes in the MLB and enjoys how celebrated they are in the game of baseball. He hopes that one day these athletes and other Hispanic athletes alike can be looked at and celebrated every day for their contributions to society on and off the field.
Gonzalez enters his junior season as the No. 24 college prospect in the MLB Draft. While he hopes the celebration of Hispanic culture and people will be an everyday activity, Gonzalez will continue to grow his status and inspire everyone he meets.
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Chris Mendoza is a senior from Huntsville, Ala. majoring in journalism and minoring in sports coaching. He started with The Plainsman in fall 2022.