Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 18
 
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Princeton University baseball player Noel Gonzales-Luna strokes the ball last Sunday as the Tigers split a doubleheader with Cornell to end the season at 12-30 overall and 6-14 in Ivy League play. After spending three years as benchwarmer, senior infielder Gonzales-Luna proved to be a major bright spot in a disappointing spring. Emerging as a reliable lead-off threat, he hit .304 to tie John Mishu for the team lead in batting average.

After Spending Three Years as Benchwarmer, Gonzales-Luna Emerges a Star for PU Baseball

Bill Alden

When Noel Gonzales-Luna joined the Princeton University baseball program as a freshman in 2006, there was no guarantee that the infielder would see much playing time over the next four years.

“I was a walk-on but I always felt this was the level I could play at,” said Gonzales-Luna. “Even at the beginning when I was at the bottom of the depth chart, I felt like I belonged with these guys.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley, though, didn’t offer Gonzales-Luna much encouragement. “When Noel got here, I told him you’ll never play an important game for us,” recalled Bradley.

For the last three seasons, Bradley’s analysis seemed spot-on as the 5’9, 175-pound Gonzales-Luna had a .177 batting average in 79 at-bats over 33 appearances.

But with the exodus of several Tiger players due to graduation and the Major League Baseball draft, Gonzales-Luna got his chance this spring and he made the most of it.

While the Tigers struggled to a 12-30 overall record and a 6-14 mark in Ivy League play, Gonzales-Luna proved to be a major bright spot. Emerging as a reliable lead-off threat, he hit .304 to tie John Mishu for the team lead in batting average.

Last Sunday in his Princeton finale, Gonzales-Luna went out on a high note going 3-for-8 on the day with two runs scored as the Tigers split a doubleheader with Cornell, winning the opener 8-7 before falling 8-4 in the nightcap.

“The wins have been tough to come by but every one just feels good, especially on the last day,” said Gonzales-Luna, reflecting on his final appearance for Princeton.

“We came into the season with high hopes and had a disappointing season in some respects but had a lot of fun to this point. I can say I left it on the field.”

Gonzales-Luna was happy to finally get on the field and prove his ability.

“It was a big learning process, you come in and you stay humble and you work,” said Gonzales-Luna, who started 35 games this spring.

“That’s always been the way I go about things, working hard and watching how the other guys do things. Playing around better players makes you better. I felt this is what I was capable of the whole time. It feels good; it is a weight off my shoulders to put it together.”

Coming into the spring, Gonzales-Luna had a feeling he could do some big things in his final campaign.

“At the beginning of the fall something clicked in my swing and I was good from there,” said Gonzales-Luna.

“Sometimes things start going well for you and you just try to keep it going. I learned a lot in the last three years. It is not just one thing that made the difference.”

Bradley, for his part, was thrilled to see the difference in Gonzales-Luna this spring. “That’s the thing you really look at,” said Bradley. “You take a kid like Noel and he just came in and through hard work and with Greg Van Horn leaving and everything else, he was given the opportunity. He really, really took advantage of it.”

Bradley is hoping his young players will take advantage of the lessons they learned over the course of Princeton’s disappointing spring.

“Our young guys are good and I think we have a good class coming in so I think we are getting there,” said Bradley, whose core of young talent includes freshmen Mishu, Nate Baird, Matt Bowman, and Alex Flink together with sophomores Sam Mulroy, Tom Boggiano, and Andrew Whitener.

“Coming into this year, I think we only had four players that had more than 40 career at-bats. That’s a lot of new players we were breaking in so at least we have some stuff to go off on. We are going to get started tomorrow, focusing on trying to make sure we don’t repeat this.”

Gonzales-Luna has some sage advice for those returning players. “You have great times on the field and the best thing is sharing it with your teammates,” said Gonzales-Luna, who plans to stay in baseball and has lined up an internship with the Boston Red Sox at their spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla.

“You go through a lot together and it brings you all close. You get down to the end and the last thing you realize is that you play to have fun.”

And Gonzales-Luna certainly had plenty of fun this spring as he proved he belonged on the field.

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