September 9, 2020

PHS Alum Gonzalez Returns to Old Stomping Grounds Coaching JV Baseball Team, Taking Helm of Post 218

RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Benito Gonzalez fires a pitch in 2009 game during his career with the Princeton High baseball team. Gonzalez, who went on the pitch for The College of New Jersey baseball program, has returned to his old stomping grounds, teaching at the Princeton Unified Middle School and coaching the PHS junior varsity baseball team. In addition, he took the helm of the Post 218 American Legion baseball team, succeeding longtime coach Tommy Parker. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

By Bill Alden

Benito Gonzalez experienced a turning point in his baseball career as he headed into the latter stages of his Princeton High career.

“I enjoyed playing for the team, I felt much better about my junior and senior seasons,” said Gonzalez, a 2010 PHS alum.

“Looking back, I feel like that is where I turned a corner and started thinking more about playing in college and things like that.”

Gonzalez went on to play college ball for The College of New Jersey, developing into a star relief pitcher.

“I threw a lot of two seamers and sliders at first; it was something that coach noticed,” said Gonzalez, who went 4-4 in 40 appearances in his career with the Lions, posting an ERA of 3.73 with 40 strikeouts in 70 innings.

“Probably the quickest way to get in and involved was to be a reliever. I ended up really enjoying pitching out of the bullpen. You wouldn’t have the same innings but it was nice being involved potentially in the outcome of a game several times a week instead of waiting a week to do it.”

During his time at TCNJ, Gonzalez decided to get involved in teaching and coaching, looking to help students and players turn the corner as he had during his high school days.

“I had always done well in school and I always enjoyed being around people,” said Gonzalez.

“My favorite coaches and teachers were the ones that helped me reflect on things and helped me learn the process instead of telling me what to do. I respected those people a lot who helped me along the way and I wanted to be able to do that for kids.”

After teaching for a year in Franklin Township, Gonzalez returned to Princeton to teach sixth grade social studies at the Princeton Unified Middle School and coach its baseball team.

“It was so interesting because I had to think back to how I played at that level because I didn’t really play until eighth grade year there,” said Gonzalez, reflecting on guiding the middle school team.

“I enjoyed the experience. I always knew that I wanted to coach high school ultimately. What I learned and what I really appreciated at the time was that I had a really good eighth grade group that is probably going to feature pretty prominently on the high school team.”

In 2019, Gonzalez joined the PHS baseball coaching staff and took the helm of the junior varsity squad.

“I was really happy because I got to see a lot of guys I already had a little experience with, so I felt a lot more comfortable for sure,” said Gonzalez.

“What I really enjoyed about going to the high school was that we had a lot of more time to develop kids. When you make that jump to high school it gets to be more serious and there is a little more skill development.”

That summer, he served as an assistant coach for the Princeton Post 218 American Legion team and in 2020, he had moved up to the head coaching role for the program, succeeding longtime coach Tommy Parker.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL) canceled the 2020 campaign.

“I think what was disappointing this year is that Jon Durbin (administrative manager), Tommy Parker (now serving as general manager), and I did have a lot of ideas,” said Gonzalez.

“We wanted to make the Legion team a better product for the people in Princeton or the people who would transfer to play for Princeton Legion.”

Gonzalez knows that succeeding Parker will be a challenge.

“I don’t know if you can follow him, considering everything he has done for the town, not even thinking about baseball,” said Gonzalez.

“It is an impressive run of public service. He has got such a great attitude about everything. He is great with kids, he is really fair with kids, and kids genuinely respect him and enjoy being around him. You can tell after all of these years that he still enjoys it and still feels like a passion. I think that is encouraging part.”

Based on his experience with the Post 218 team in 2019, Gonzalez was focusing on getting players to develop a passion for the program.

“I think how we suffered most last year was the lack of cohesiveness as a unit and a team,” asserted Gonzalez.

“We wanted to create a culture where we have a group of guys who are committed to being here. Once you have that in place, then you can do a lot of the things that you want to do in terms of coaching and instruction because none of that stuff really happens until you have a cohesive unit where people trust each other.”

In order to accomplish that, the Post 218 leadership
team was putting its goals in writing.

“We talked a lot about coming up with a definitive contract for kids in terms of expectations in terms of commitment to the team,” said Gonzalez.

“We are trying to get more people involved and trying to get the kids, especially that younger crop of kids who were coming up that weren’t necessarily as committed to travel programs and getting them to play with Princeton American Legion.”

By virtue of his coaching role at PHS, Gonzalez can keep tabs on many of the Legion players during the school year and trade ideas with Tiger head coach Dom Capuano.

“I am here in the spring too and can be kind of like that bridge connecting their summer and spring,” said Gonzalez.

“I can talk to Dom about the things I see and Dom can talk to me about things that we could do with some of those kids coming up.”

Looking ahead, Gonzalez is fired up to get on the diamond with Post 218 next summer.

“I think the plan is pretty similar; it has just been on pause,” said Gonzalez.

“We are not the only group or team dealing with this type of situation. Developmentally it is more disjointed considering what has happened the last several months. I am happy to be here. A lot of people come up to me and say congratulations on being coach and having the coaching gig and then it just didn’t happen. I just hope, knock on wood, that by the time spring and summer rolls around next year we are in a much better position than we are now.”