“I want to run for student body president.”
Vanderbilt Baseball infielder Jayson Gonzalez was just a fourth grader when he made this announcement to his parents, Wallace and Adela. Given that he was a quiet, humble kid, Jayson was certainly not the frontrunner for president. For that very reason, his parents weren’t too confident in the decision.
“Son, I’m not so sure how to put this. We really don’t do student body,” said his father.
Wallace Gonzalez chuckles every time he tells the story.
His hard-work got him to where he wanted to be; the Commodore was elected student body president as the underdog candidate.
Jayson knew that the lessons he learned would come in handy.
“Listen dad, I know that I don’t speak well in front of crowds, but I want to learn now. That’s why I want to run for student body president. When I get to the big leagues, I have to be comfortable speaking in front of very big crowds.”
From a young age, Jayson Gonzalez would set lofty, ambitious goals for himself, knowing that there was only one way to achieve them. According to Cam Saylor, Jayson’s middle school baseball coach, that one method is simple.
“He can literally complete the sentence,” he said. “If someone said to him, ‘there is no substitute for…’ he would immediately reply, ‘hard work’”.
He knew that hard work and dedication would always give him the results he wanted, regardless of how daunting the task may be.
Just a few years after his term as school president, Wallace and Adela were shocked to have been called in for a parent-teacher conference. Jayson was a fantastic student; the teacher even began by saying to Wallace, Adela, and Jayson “I don’t understand why we’re meeting, Jayson has a B+. He’s one of my best students.”
It became abundantly clear to Wallace and Adela that this wasn’t about Jayson being one of her best students, it was about Jayson being Jayson’s best student. He wouldn’t be satisfied until he could achieve his own goals.
Jayson quickly responded, “I am not worried about my peers, I just want to know what I can do to be better. I need to prepare myself to go to Stanford.”
The teacher’s jaw dropped.
A 6th grader already looking at colleges? Nonetheless, one of the top colleges in the nation?
Jayson was, and still is, a perfectionist in all the best ways. He wanted to go to a college that had one of the best baseball teams in the nation, coupled with impeccable academics. As a product of West Covina, California, Stanford happened to be the nearest school to fit his mold.
Those two conditions never changed, but the college of choice did.
When he saw an ESPN segment on David Price and his experience at Vanderbilt, Jayson was first introduced to the legend of Coach Corbin. As the story goes, Price was so fed up with his freshman year workload and countless hours on the diamond that he tried to quit baseball altogether. Price planned on going home, working at McDonald’s, and attending a junior college.
Then, along came Tim Corbin. The Commodores head coach was not going to let him quit baseball that quickly.
Corbin helped change Price’s mind. He continued to pitch three stellar seasons, got drafted first overall, got named to five all-star games and won a Cy Young. The current Red Sox pitcher wouldn’t have achieved any of this if Corbin hadn’t stepped in.
That was enough to convince Jayson that Corbin, the highly-touted baseball program and the fantastic academic rigor would make Vanderbilt the perfect place for him. His mother, Adela, knew it would be tough, but never doubted her son’s work ethic. She knew that if he wanted to, he could make it across the country to attend such a prestigious institution.
“Jayson told me, ‘I want to play for that man.’ And so at that point, I thought: across the country? Yeah right. Like, who is Vanderbilt? What is Nashville? It just seemed unrealistic. That being said, I never doubted his abilities. I knew he wouldn’t give up until he was a VandyBoy.”
Jayson’s self-set goals proved her point; he could achieve whatever he desired.
Ever since Jayson played for the West Covina Dukes in middle school, Coach Saylor knew Jayson had what it took to attend Vanderbilt.
When it came to academics, Saylor said, “The kid was a 4.0 student. Honestly, school just never seemed tough for him.”
Then of course, things weren’t much different on the field. Saylor said that it came even more naturally to Jayson.
“My very first impression of Jayson was, ‘Holy crap, you’re eleven?’” he said. “Even at that young age you knew he was super special. He was so much bigger than everyone else, very coordinated for someone his age, and was literally one-hopping our 330-foot outfield fence. It was shocking, he was just a freak of nature.”
Jayson’s skill set seemed to develop naturally, but baseball is largely a mental game. Lucky for him, he had all the help he needed.
Playing up to the Competition (and their age)
Jayson’s father, Wallace, and his brother, Wallace III, played professional ball for the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros organizations, respectively. He was able to learn from the two; he knew what to expect, and how to deal with the negativity that one might encounter. His talented family taught him invaluable lessons, which Jayson applied well to his everyday life.
Even now, as a Vanderbilt student-athlete, Jayson will never forget one particular lesson. In fact, he now labels it as one of the most important memories of his baseball career.
“I was the batboy for my brother’s team and my dad was the coach,” Jayson said. “Turns out, I had to be on the roster to stay in the dugout. There I was, a six-year-old handling the bats and balls for a bunch of twelve-year-olds, when my brother gets called in from the outfield to pitch. My dad looks at me and says, ‘hey bat boy, grab a glove, grab a hat, and go play some center field’. I looked at him like he was crazy. I was only half their age, but at the same time, I have never experienced excitement like that. Luckily, no balls were hit to me that inning.”
Jayson continued to play with the older kids, only now, the ball was hit to him. Needless to say, he was ready.
As a high school freshman at Bishop Amat, he started on a varsity team that ultimately won a state championship. His mother still talks about how tough it was for Jayson, “dealing with negativity and people not being happy. This freshman was in a position where seniors on the bench felt they deserved playing time as a rite of passage. They made it tough for Jayson.”
Jayson was never fazed by the pressure. Jared Sandler, Jayson’s high school travel coach, knew that the older kids may have been on his tail, but he wouldn’t have an issue staying composed.
“We all know he’s not missing any tools physically, but that applies to his mentality as well,” Sandler said. “When Jayson plays, I will always admire two things: his professionalism, and his humility. He is humble beyond belief, and you can never really tell if he is batting 4-4 with two home runs or 0-4 with four strikeouts.”
Jayson even had the help of Gilbert Adame, a mentor and life coach, to help him mature. In the end, Gilbert believes his maturity is “what makes him scary for the opposing pitcher to face. Even if a pitcher strikes him out with three pitches, he would be making a mistake to discount Jayson in his next at-bat. He truly knows how to handle himself.”
In the end, Jayson’s mental toughness helped him thrive. He truly proved his worth as a freshman, as he propelled Bishop Amat to a state championship.
Finally, Jayson’s talents brought him all the way to Vanderbilt, his dream school. Wallace was a proud father, but never truly understood the implications of being Commodore until Jayson’s senior year of high school. It’s more than a team; it’s more than a community; it’s a family.
The Vanderbilt Difference
When Jayson was selected to participate in the high school home-run derby during the 2016 MLB All-Star Week in San Diego, he was put in the same hotel as many major leaguers. The day he arrived, Wallace was sold.
“We heard his name from across the lobby,” Wallace said. “I was a bit confused, but we both kept walking. Then we heard it again. And again. It kept getting closer until we turn around, and Dansby Swanson is jogging over to get our attention. He wished Jayson good luck and commended his decision to pick Vanderbilt. We continued walking, and I heard it again. I thought, ‘No way this is happening again.’ Jayson turned, sees where it’s coming from, and said, ‘Wait, I think that’s Carson Fulmer’. Before you know it, Carson drops his bags, jogs down the lobby, and said the same as Dansby. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this is real. This is Vanderbilt.”
Jayson may not have won the home-run derby, but he sure made his mark with a jaw-dropping 437 foot bomb (video from MLB.com).
Swanson and Fulmer both understood the immediate impact Jayson could have on the Commodores. Thankfully, Coach Corbin saw the same, and granted Jayson playing time as a true freshman.
In March, Gonzalez was named SEC freshman of the week for hitting .364 with five runs batted in and a .462 on base percentage in three games.
Shortly thereafter, Jayson suffered an unfortunate injury that limited his playing time.
If his story tells us anything, it’s that he has the mental strength, dedication, and exemplary work ethic to return with more prowess than ever before.
“Oh of course I’ll be back,” Gonzalez uttered with a smile.