Staff Writer | Toph Buzzard
Playing catcher in baseball is not a walk in the park. Ask any former catcher and they will tell you about the bumps and bruises they received during their time playing the position.
Foul balls ricochet off your catcher’s mask, your bare hand or your forearm. Balls take a funny hop in the dirt and end up hitting you in the, well, as the saying goes, if you know, you know.
But, what every successful baseball team needs is a good catcher.
The Cougars currently stand at 34-6 and have held the No. 1 ranking in all of NCAA DII Baseball and there’s one guy in the middle of it all.
Left-handed hitting catcher, Justin Gomez.
The junior catcher out of Claremont, CA leads the team with 39 runs scored and is tied for first on the team with eight home runs. He is also in the top four on the team when it comes to walks, on-base percentage, runs batted in, total bases, at-bats, slugging percentage and doubles.
“He’s really grown as a player. Not only physically, but emotionally as a leader. That leadership starts behind the plate and having him set the tone in that fashion this year has been very important to the team’s success,” Head Coach Paul Svagdis said.
This isn’t the first time APU’s seen a left-handed, All-Star catcher lead their team. In 2007, Azusa Pacific had one of its most successful baseball teams of all time. They posted a 51-10 overall record and made it to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) World Series.
Catcher Stephen Vogt hit a remarkable .476 with 14 home runs. Over his illustrious four-year career as a Cougar, Vogt tallied a .451 batting average with 31 home runs. The Visalia, CA native was not only known for his tremendous skill as a baseball player, but also for his uncanny ability to lead the team.
It appears that history is repeating itself. The Cougars wouldn’t a top-ranked DII baseball team without Gomez.
However, perhaps the most impressive stat has yet to be mentioned. Gomez has been the starting catcher in every game since the second game of a doubleheader against Western Oregon on Feb. 9. That adds up to 28 straight games behind home plate. Eighteen of those games were on the same day due to doubleheaders.
“I worked out every single day and tried to get myself on a plan,” Gomez said. “I played up in Alaska this summer where we played every single day so I tried to find a routine of waking up, getting breakfast, going to workout and then coming back and relaxing before I had to go to the ballpark to get ready to play.”
Gomez executed that same plan when he returned to California. Catching 34 out of the 35 games this season speaks directly to his strict routine and resolve. However, that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
“I can definitely feel it in my legs a little bit. But when you are 32-3, you just let that go because you are winning so much,” Gomez said.
Both Vogt and Gomez had remarkable winning streaks. Both catchers hit left-handed. And both showed leadership as the generals on the field.
Despite all of these similarities, Vogt’s 2007 team fell a few games short of reaching their ultimate goal, while the 2018 team still has a chance to come out on top as National Champions.