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Omaha Redemption



March 11, 2013

By Scott Kotick (@ScottKotick), Seminoles.com

Failure is a reality that every baseball player must endure. Perfect batting averages and errorless seasons don't exist. The best hitters in the game fail at least 60 percent of the time.

Sometimes baseball can be cruel and rip a player's heart out at the worst possible moment. For Justin Gonzalez, game one against Arizona in the College World Series provided the backdrop for the greatest test he could ever imagine.

"That first game in Omaha, I felt like I let my team down," Gonzalez said. "Something that we worked so hard to do and I blame myself for that night, I blame myself for that loss."

"He took it pretty hard, a lot of those things we kind of get over it with baseball because we deal with so much failure," Stephen McGee said. "You learn to get over it but you can only take so much. It was difficult seeing him go through it, tearing up, it really hit him hard."

"The thoughts that are going through my head: 'What have I done? Did I just cost this team the right to win a national championship? Did I just do that?'" Gonzalez said. "Talk about being down man, that was probably the most down I've been since I've been here."

Error after error, base running mistakes, it seemed that nothing would go his way. The Seminoles ended up falling to Arizona in extra innings that night in Omaha, likely ending their dream at winning the first national title in school history.

But while failure may sting, it is a fleeting moment and baseball always provides a new shot at glory.

"Everything was being tested at the same time and it was very difficult for me being a 21-year old having those tests right away all in such a stage like the College World Series," Gonzalez said.

"He came back the next day determined," head coach Mike Martin said. "He came back the next day and said 'that wasn't Justin Gonzalez, I'll show you Justin Gonzalez today.'"

And he got that shot. Redemption. The moment that would silence all the doubt from the previous game.

"I gotta be honest, when that swing came and that ball went, it sparked a new energy inside me," Gonzalez said. "It sparked a new mentality and way of thinking. Yesterday was yesterday, and today is today, and all I have to live for is today."

"Especially to see him come through like that, it was very uplifting," McGee said. "Having him put down the worst he's ever been put down, and then all of a sudden come back in the next three games and play like he did, that's great to see and I'm glad he did it."

"When you do something like that, you gain so much confidence," Martin said. "All of a sudden, you just feel like you're seeing the ball better, everything falls into place for you, and he really took off after that big hit for us."

It was a complete turnaround. Gonzalez finished with the most RBI in the College World Series among all eight teams. He helped lead the Seminoles to their best finish since the year 2000. And that Friday night nightmare was a distant memory as he looked forward.

Yet he had not reached the ultimate team goal. Walking away from Omaha with that trophy was just beyond his grasp. There was more to do in a Seminole uniform, symbolized with one letter on his jersey.

"When you wear that C, you do feel that responsibility," Martin said. "He accepts that responsibility, he relishes that. That's what he's about."

"The decision came down to that I felt like I was leaving something behind, that I was finished," Gonzalez said. "That I was being called back to do something more."

"And he did so with a lot of class, there wasn't any of this announcement stuff," Martin said. "He just said to us in the College World Series, 'I'm coming back to Florida State, I'm going to get my degree.'"

And that's where Gonzalez's journey continues this season as the team's captain. Leading by example and putting others before himself.

"Guys started to buy into the aspect that this is a team, this is not a bunch of individuals," Gonzalez said. "Trying to be an All-American, or a first-rounder, trying for the individual statistics. When we win together, it means so much more."

"Trust and really believe in the team with the new guys," McGee said. "I think we have something really special and I can't wait to see what happens, because we're a good team now, and once we keep learning and learning, we're going to be very dangerous come June."

The goal to get back to Omaha is stronger than ever. The offseason work, the early season games, everything leads up to June at the College World Series.

"So close in Omaha, getting that taste kind of leaves you itching," Gonzalez said. "The work that we put in the fall, being with these guys, and the way the team is gelling together this year, I know it's young in the season, but I believe that we will be back and believe that we have a great opportunity to win it all this year. Those guys in the locker room do too."

And Florida State will have their captain leading them every step of the way. Not as an individual, but as part of something greater. To visualize the ultimate goal, and see it become reality.

"I will never quit, I will never stop, we will make it."


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