Exchange student from Spain has unforgettable moment for Belmont baseball

By ERIC RYNSTON-LOBEL

Monitor staff

Published: 05-25-2023 3:36 PM

Belmont baseball head coach Matt LeBlanc walked up to Alejandro Jimenez Gonzalez in the dugout. It was the top of the fifth inning of Monday’s game against Winnisquam. The Red Raiders were leading the Bears, 8-3.

“Alejandro, you’re going to lead off next inning,” LeBlanc told him.

He didn’t understand what it meant to lead off.

“You’re going to get an at bat,” LeBlanc clarified.

“I’m going to go into the game? That’s sick!” he replied.

So at the start of the bottom of the fifth, he grabbed his black helmet and green bat and stepped up to the plate.

He crushed the first pitch just barely foul. His teammates erupted in the dugout, partially out of excitement, partially out of shock.

He eventually worked a walk, then stole second and came around to score on a sac fly from Owen Waldron.

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Concord’s new ice cream shop offers unique flavors
Opinion: A look at the Elderly Property Tax Exemption
‘Don’t fall behind’ - Taking and selling properties left to local discretion
Rolling out the red carpet for Concord High prom
Hometown Hero: A walk around the mall with Darbster volunteer Uncle Ross
Opinion: Outstanding issues at the Broken Ground site

It was his first – and likely only – plate appearance for the varsity team. He’s an exchange student from Madrid, Spain who arrived in the United States at the start of the school year with almost no baseball experience. Now he’ll be able to head back home with tons of anecdotes about this new sport he learned how to play.

On Monday night, following Belmont’s 10-5 win and senior day celebrations, Jimenez Gonzalez sent LeBlanc a text. He wanted to let him know how much he appreciated his coach for giving him a shot.

“That was probably one of the best moments in my life,” Jimenez Gonzalez said of that fifth inning. “As soon as Coach told me that I was going to start (this season) with JV but then I could go up to varsity, I was like, ‘My goal is to go up to varsity.’ When I got there, I was like, ‘No way.’ I couldn’t stop smiling. I haven’t felt that happy in many, many years. It was amazing.”

For LeBlanc, it was a reminder of what makes his job special.

“I got tears in my eyes,” he said. “There are a lot of thankless parts of being a coach, but it’s days like (Monday), experiences with Alejandro where you say, ‘This is why I do it, and this is why it’s worth it.’

“I think he’s really energized this team. However far we make it in the playoffs, he’s going to come with us every step of the way, and I just can’t wait. I’m very happy to have him as part of the team.”

‘Practically never seen a baseball before’

Monday’s plate appearance was no guarantee for the 16-year-old when he decided he wanted to try out for the baseball team.

In the fall, Jimenez Gonzalez’s host mom, Kim Scamman, reached out to LeBlanc, asking how he could become involved with the program. LeBlanc suggested he come watch the team play in its fall league so he could start to learn about the game, but the timing didn’t work out with his commitments for soccer season. Then in the winter, LeBlanc told Scamman that it’d be quite difficult for him to get any playing time, even on JV, but Jimenez Gonzalez wanted to give it a shot.

His dad had also been an exchange student in 1989 and since stayed in touch with his host family. On Alejandro’s fourth birthday, his dad’s host brother gave him a baseball glove and a ball.

From the time he was 4 until he was about 7, he’d toss the ball around with his dad.

“And then when I heard I was coming here, I was like, ‘Ooh, I want to play baseball,’” he said. “But yeah, (other than that), I’d practically never seen a baseball before.”

He tried out and made the JV roster. Then in mid-April, Anakin Underhill, the Red Raiders’ first baseman, asked LeBlanc if Jimenez Gonzalez could join the varsity team for their road game to White Mountains. Belmont already has some of their JV players come to varsity games on days the JV team doesn’t play to lengthen the roster, so it wasn’t an abnormal request.

“He was a friggin’ spark plug. The kid was awesome,” LeBlanc said. “The energy he had, he was so positive. The kids loved him. We ended up coming back in that game and winning. Right off the bat, it was like, ‘Wow, this kid’s a good luck charm.’”

From then on, LeBlanc told him, he was more than welcome in the dugout for any future varsity games.

“He was tickled pink,” LeBlanc recalled.

Another highlight he’ll never forget.

‘These guys are amazing’

Amidst the thrill of stepping up to the plate and the joy of scoring a run for his team, Jimenez Gonzalez’s journey just to have some understanding of how to play baseball makes what he’s accomplished all the more remarkable.

About a month before the season started, he had teammate Liam Waldron take him to the batting cages where he learned how to hit and how to throw for nearly two hours every weekend.

“I had zero technique,” he said. “I was just throwing the ball however I could.”

And, of course, baseball has far more nuance than just hitting and throwing. He had to learn that you’re allowed to run straight through first base but not second or third; that you couldn’t advance on the bases on foul balls but you could on wild pitches.

He also had to learn all the different signs: bunt, steal, what a squeeze play was.

“Just learning the whole game was really hard,” he said. “My head was about to explode.”

In his first JV game, he stood on first base and started to steal second. The pitcher threw a wild pitch. He started walking back to first base, thinking it was a dead ball.

“I was stressing everybody out because they were like, ‘Run! Run to second!’ because the ball was still in play,” he said with a laugh.

On Monday, he ran the bases with less drama. He stole second without even receiving the steal sign from LeBlanc and took the bag with him as it came dislodged from the hole in the ground.

After he came around to score, the dugout mobbed him in celebration. They’ve come along for the ride, too, watching their teammate work for this chance.

“My friends, these guys have been amazing with me since the first moment,” Jimenez Gonzalez said. “I try out for baseball, they’ve always been there, cheering me on, teaching me, super patient. I really appreciate that. These guys are amazing.”

A footprint in America

As his time in Belmont winds down, Jimenez Gonzalez has pondered how he plans to continue playing baseball in the future.

His green bat will head back home with him, and he plans to find a place for his dad to throw batting practice, an extension of the old days when he and his dad would have a catch.

He’ll return to Madrid with more than just a bat and some baseball experience under his belt, though. Despite being just a sophomore, LeBlanc wanted to honor him on senior day. He received a senior award and the game ball from Monday’s game.

“He’s going to have these stories; he’s going to have this experience,” LeBlanc said. “His friends and family who have never seen the game of baseball are going to be shocked and surprised, where he gets to bring this back to Spain and say he had a footprint here in America. How awesome is that, at 16 years old?”

And while the Red Raiders still have more baseball to play with the Division III playoffs kicking off next week, Jimenez Gonzalez has already begun reflecting on how much becoming part of the Belmont community has meant to him.

“That doesn’t happen many times. That’s once in a lifetime,” Jimenez Gonzalez said of Monday and the experience as a whole. “I really feel happy. I don’t know how to explain it better.”

But then he did.

“A dream came true.”

]]>