Former Thunder outfielder Gonzalez finds a new niche
TAMPA, Fla. – For Edwar Gonzalez, the choice was simple. His next career move would come down to extending his playing days in a place where the game hasn’t quite flourished, or accepting a position with the Yankees in a location that would keep him much closer to his family.
With that in mind, Gonzalez, an outfielder with the Thunder for the last three seasons, turned down an offer from a team in the Italian League and chose to become the hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Yankees. The team is in rookie ball, the lowest level of the minor leagues, with hitters who, while talented, require an extreme amount of polish before they’re ready to start their climb up the professional rungs.
“(The Italian league) only played twice a week,” Gonzalez explained, before noting a different, more personal factor for staying stateside. “It was way too far from my son, so I wasn’t going to be able to see my son at all for six or seven months. I don’t want that. I’d rather keep the good relationship I have with him and stay in touch with him as much as I can.”
The Yankees made their offer during the VWL season, but Gonzalez wanted to wait a little while longer – a month and a half longer, to be specific – to see if any team looking for an outfielder might come calling at the last moment. After all, Gonzalez had hit 20 home runs – including 14 in the pitcher-friendly Eastern League – just three seasons prior.
Italy was the only option to keeping his playing career alive, and he didn’t give that idea much more than a moment’s thought.
“To me, that’s too far from the big leagues,” Gonzalez said yesterday while going over the day’s stats after everybody else had vacated the four fields on the Yankees’ minor league complex. “I just wanted to start helping these guys (and start) taking in another career. I’m pretty happy I’m still in baseball with the Yankees.”
Gonzalez’s move certainly isn’t unprecedented. With the GCL, he will serve under Carlos Mendoza, a former infielder and teammate of Gonzalez’s with the Thunder during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. Mendoza spent last season as a coach for the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ Low-A affiliate in the South Atlantic League.
Justin Pope, who pitched in parts of four seasons with the Thunder, is part of manager Tony Franklin’s staff this season. Danny Borrell, a member of the 2005 and 2006 Thunder squads, is the new pitching coach for the Staten Island Yankees, replacing Pat Daneker.
Last season, Borrell worked with the organization to help rehabbing pitchers, like top prospect Dellin Betances, achieve better results after their injuries.
As for Gonzalez’s day-to-day duties and the approach he’ll take to his new job, he says it’s going to be more focused on a young hitter’s approach and routine rather than the mechanics of his stroke.
“The main thing is working with young guys and trying to teach them how to work and establish an everyday routine so they know what they’re doing in their swing” he explained. “One of the main things I’m going to be doing this season is trying to teach them how to do that stuff.”
Now, with his career on a new path and his family close at hand – his son, 2-year-old Enrique, is coming from Oklahoma to spend the first two months of the season –Gonzalez is ready for his next chapter, even if it did come a little sooner than he’d expected.
“I like this job. I always knew I wanted to do it, and it came before I thought it was going to, but I’m happy. I’m happy that I’m here.”