RJ Gonzales was born with a bad heart that required open heart surgery a few days after birth. The scar that remained never defined limitation or weakness. Instead, the scar provided motivation and determination for the boy who dreamed of playing baseball on big league diamonds as a man.
Gonzales grew up playing on the baseball fields across the San Gabriel Valley with other kids who are living out their dream of playing professional baseball. And while RJ did not have the talent of his peers, his work ethic, passion, and dedication to overcome his physical weakness is what kept him committed to playing the game he loved the most.
When he moved to Huntington Beach before his freshman year of high school, RJ was determined to play baseball and run cross country. He made both teams. Not only did he make both teams, he was named the Runner of the Year for his cross country team. He didn’t earn that due to his race results, he earned it because he never gave up despite having a medical condition no other teammate had.
After a successful cross country season, RJ had all the motivation he needed heading into the spring baseball season.
The diminutive freshman was the type of player who would play any position you asked him. He was a baseball rat. Never one to pout about not being able to do something the other kids were doing, RJ was a dedicated teammate no matter how he felt. On any given day RJ had to work three times as hard as average players just to be able to compete with them.
That dedication was not lost on his teammates. It’s what made him loved by everyone he came in contact with.
As the start of his freshman baseball season neared, the anticipation of playing in the storied program at Edison High School was building.
Tragedy struck on a warm spring day in March of 2009. RJ was swimming when his heart had an episode that would ultimately claim his life. The loss of life is always heartbreaking. When that life is of a boy just transitioning into manhood who has battled and overcome so much in life, it’s tragic.
Almost immediately those closest to RJ went to work on developing a foundation and doing something to honor the memory of the young man who had touched so many lives in such a short period of time.
In addition to starting the RJ Foundation, what they came up with was the RJ Legacy Baseball Games. What started as a game in 2010 between South Hills and Bishop Amat, has evolved into the unofficial kickoff to the high school spring baseball season in the San Gabriel Valley.
This years version of the event will take place on Saturday, February 20th at Maverick Field in West Covina. The event has evolved into a double-header in baseball and will also feature a triple-header in softball to held at South Hills High School.
On the baseball side, Walnut will take on San Dimas at 2:30pm followed by Bishop Amat against South Hills at 6:00pm.
The softball games are: South Hills vs Walnut (11:00am), Bishop Amat vs Walnut (1:00pm), and Bishop Amat vs South Hills (3:00pm).
The RJ Legacy games started as a baseball only event and that tradition is deep. Past MVP’s include Rio Ruiz, Peter Lambert, and Gavin Velasquez. Ruiz and Lambert are former high MLB draft picks, and Velasquez kicks off his freshman campaign for Cal State Fullerton this weekend.
Ultimately, the RJ Legacy games are a celebration of the life of a young man who touched so many in his short time on earth. It also serves a wonderful reminder of how baseball has the ability to bring complete strangers together for a game they are passionate about.