LAS CRUCES -- Daniel Gonzales doesn't hesitate when asked to compare the experience of playing in the Army/Navy football game or watching little brother fulfill a lifelong dream.
"The Army/Navy game was an awesome experience, but I was so focused in on beating those guys that I didn't get a chance to embrace how many people were watching it or anything like that," said Gonzales, who played linebacker at the Naval Academy from 2013-2017. "But I really got to cherish Nick's moment."
Daniel Gonzales' younger brother is former New Mexico State baseball player Nick Gonzales, who was drafted No. 7 overall in the MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"I would chose Nick getting drafted any day of the week," Daniel Gonzales said. "To know how much hard work that kid has put in and know what my family has done and what everyone has sacrificed with all the trips to Phoenix every weekend to watch him play and support him. It was so worth it to see him get drafted and know his dream came true."
Now the Gonzales household includes an officer in the Marine Corps and a Top 10 MLB Draft pick.
"You want your kids to do better in life than you, so I have been blessed," said father Mike Gonzales.
Mike Gonzales said he expected Daniel Gonzales to be a key contributor on the Navy football program, while Nick Gonzales's rise came as somewhat more of a surprise.
"To say that I knew Nick was going to be a No. 7 overall pick, I would be lying," Mike Gonzales said. "But Daniel, I remember after team captains were announced his freshman and sophomore year, I told him I would be disappointed if Daniel didn't do that before he left. I expected that."
With the bar set high, Nick Gonzales had no choice but to succeed.
"Nick worked hard and deserves 90 percent of what happened to him, but it takes a village," Mike Gonzales said. "Daniel was a huge part of showing him the way. Daniel was also a very hard worker and Nick saw it and saw what it takes to be successful."
Draft day in Japan
Daniel Gonzales, 26, is stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where he is a First Lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He is halfway through a two-year order in Japan, where he is a supply officer for the 3rd Battalion, 12th Marines artillery unit.
It was bright and early when the MLB Draft started. Although he has not been back home to Vail, Arizona, for seven years, Daniel Gonzales was still in the family room via FaceTime to see the reaction when his brother's name was called.
Nick Gonzales was invited to Omaha, Nebraska, for the Draft, prior to COVID-19 shutting down professional sports in March. As a result of the pandemic, Daniel Gonzales also was not able to travel.
"It was awesome to see the look in my dad's eyes," Daniel Gonzales said. "Even though I wasn't there, I felt like I was there. I know every person in that room gave something to get him to that point."
Both Gonzales brothers struggled to sleep in the days leading up the Draft.
"We don't have access to ESPN out here, but the USO has access to US TV networks so they opened it up for me and my Marines to watch the Draft," Daniel Gonzales said. "I was having a hard time sleeping so I know he was struggling. I was just so excited for him and my family."
Both brothers struggle getting noticed
Perhaps the most publicized aspect to Nick Gonzales's rise was the fact that he was a walk-on his first year under former New Mexico State baseball coach Brian Green.
Nick Gonzales had offers from Navy and Bakersfield, but Mike Gonzales was leaning toward Austin Peay, which offered the Arizona Class 5A Player of the Year a 98-percent scholarship.
The rest is history, but the Gonzales family was confident he would prove himself. All the better if it was closer to Arizona than the Naval Academy.
"Coach Green gave a presentation and he said that he didn't have any money, but if Nick didn't want to come, he got it," Mike Gonzales said. "It (New Mexico State) was just where he wanted to go. Nick told me he would go there and prove them wrong. I didn't realize at the time that he wanted to try to stay closer to home."
Daniel Gonzales had a similar struggle as a potential Division I athlete from a small town.
Gonzales was a two-sport standout at Cienega High School, leading the state in tackles his senior year, yet no schools in Arizona showed any interest.
"My family kind of got the picture from how my recruiting went," Daniel Gonzales said. "I actually talked to my recruiting coach who signed me from Navy and he said if I didn't see your tape, there was no reason for me to have ever gone to Vail, Arizona. We kind of had the idea that that was what was going on with Nick."
Daniel Gonzales was a four time first-team all-state first baseman in high school, where he reached a state semifinal as a junior. He was the biggest player on the football team that reached the sate championship game his senior year playing running back and linebacker.
West Point and the Naval Academy were the only offers to play football coming out of high school.
The Gonzales family is not a military family, but Daniel Gonzales wanted to extend his athletic career.
"I always wanted to be a Marine as a kid," Daniel Gonzales said. "I had no idea what it meant. I just saw the commercials and thought that it looked cool. I thought it must be fate. I had the opportunity to be a Marine and play football."
Once at Navy, Daniel Gonzales had a successful career. He was selected a team captain as a senior. He started 28 career games and played on two bowl winning games before a broken foot ended his senior season.
Navy won the Poinsettia Bowl in 2014 and went 11-2 and won the Military Bowl in 2015. He was fourth on the team in tackles his junior year. He intercepted Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch for one of Lynch's two interceptions in the 2015 season in a 45-20 victory over the No. 15 Wildcats.
"He was definitely a good player, but he played so violently," Mike Gonzales said. "He couldn't just make a tackle. He had to drive the guy through the turf. So the way he played and for him to lose his senior year to something like a foot injury was kind of funny."
The Gonzales family made regular trips to watch Navy games throughout Daniel Gonzales's career. Nick Gonzales participated in a Navy baseball camp his junior year, where Daniel Gonzales said coach Paul Kostacopoulos offered him on the spot.
"It was one of the first people to offer him verbally," Daniel Gonzales said. "But he knew my experience in the Naval Academy and some of the hardships of the military and that was something he was not looking to do, but if he didn't have any other options, that's a place he could play."
"The kid is never going to have to get a normal job."
On trips back home to Arizona, Mike Gonzales would throw batting practice for Daniel and Nick.
Like any act between brothers, it quickly turned into a competition.
As Nick Gonzales got older, the competitions became one-sided. While there is still competition in terms of weight lifting or Call of Duty, there is no longer a competition in the batting cage.
"I could see the shift in his focus and his confidence in his swing," Daniel Gonzales said. "I think once Coach Green made those little tweaks to his swing, there was no more competing for me."
There was no competition on the field either. Nick Gonzales took off as a junior in 2019, leading the nation in batting average (.432) in 2019 while being named an All-American by six different publications.
But it was a MVP performance in the prestigious Cape Cod League that moved him from a Top 5 round prospect into a Top 5 overall prospect.
Nick Gonzales signed his contract this week, which included a signing bonus of $5,432,400.
"We were just hoping that he would have a good college career," Daniel Gonzales said. "He wanted to get in finance or something like that, but he got confidence that he was good and then wanted to play at the pro level. He was a Top 5 rounder after his sophomore year and then went to the Cape Cod League and kept pushing the limit. It was pretty awesome to watch."
The last time Daniel Gonzales was able to see his brother play in person was during the Aggies run to the WAC Tournament championship in 2018.
With a year left for his orders to Japan, Daniel Gonzales hopes his next order will be in the US and close enough to watch his brother climb through the Pirates system.
"Their Minor League teams are kind of spaced out along the east coast," Daniel Gonzales said. "I'm trying to figure out where the best place is to watch him play because I want to catch as many games as I can."
This article is written by Jason Groves from Las Cruces Sun-News, N.M. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.