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GARY — Jose Gonzalez has been in a lot of places in living out his dream to make it to the major leagues. One place. One day at a time.

The native of Venezuela, however, had only one thing to say about his return to Gary on Wednesday night.

And it was from his heart.

"I feel like I've come home," said Gonzalez, in the clubhouse at U.S. Steel Yard, donning his RailCats gear for the second time.

After a remarkable season last year behind the plate, in which he was named an American Association All-Star, he won the league's Defensive Player of the Year award, gunning down 24 base runners while hitting .232 with four home runs and 21 RBIs.

The hashtag #NoWayJose was coined after he threw out runners last season.

He was signed by the Minnesota Twins and played for the AA Chattanooga Lookouts this season. But after hitting .156 with one home run and six RBIs in 25 games, he was released.

RailCats manager Greg Tagert was on the phone pretty quickly.

"Jose took it as another chance to make the (MLB)," Tagert said of his signing by the Twins over the winter. "If you tell me there are half a dozen (defensive) catchers in the majors who are better than Jose, I'll tell you how you're wrong."

Gonzalez is coming off a hand injury after he was crossed up on a pitch that caught him hard on his glove hand. Then, four days later, he got hit by a pitch in the same spot.

While in Phoenix last week, a MRI and several X-rays were taken to determine it was only a bone bruise.

"I'm ready to go," Gonzalez said, noting that having two weeks off has helped heal his hand. "I want to keep playing baseball. I feel like I'm back home."

The RailCats also activated first baseman Alex Crosby from the inactive list, traded outfielder Tyler Sullivan to the Wichita Wingnuts for future considerations and traded catcher James Alfonso to the Southern Illinois Miners of the Frontier League for a player to be named later. Alfonso hit .133 with three doubles and five RBIs in 20 games for the RailCats.

Gonzalez, who is 30, adds experience to a young RailCats roster. His veteran leadership and mentoring will be key as Tagert's team tries to make a second-half playoff push.

Gonzalez will share catching duties with Wilfredo Gimenez.

"This club needed one more veteran-type player," Tagert said. "I think we were missing it."

Tagert said that Gonzalez's high baseball IQ will open a door for him as a professional baseball coach once he decides to retire. Several organizations have spoken with Tagert about that possibility.

Not today.

"I want to keep playing," Gonzalez said. "I have a passion for this game."


Sports Reporter

Steve has won awards during two different stints at The Times. In addition to being the Prep Beat columnist, he covers football, boys basketball and boys track. He is a long-suffering Cubs fan.