Karim Gonzalez is a senior right-handed relief pitcher at Maryland-Eastern Shore. He is also carrying the highest grade-point average among the school’s student-athletes. That he is able to maintain a 3.98 GPA throughout the year is impressive since baseball players have arguably the most difficult season schedule, which often costs them days out of the classroom. Gonzalez says he owes keeping his academics sterling to flexible instructors, outstanding time management and hours upon hours of video games.
It was video games that placed in him an abiding passion for the past as a kid and now that love has matured into him pursuing a history degree. Chances are if dreams of playing baseball beyond UMES’s next season are extinguished, he isn’t likely to appreciably increase his income potential regaling students about medieval times. And Gonzalez doesn’t care.
“I’m really passionate about my major,” Gonzalez said. “I’m a History major, and that’s one of those majors you have to be passionate about. You don’t see historians in the news making mad money. A lot of people say I might starve to death being a historian. I’m aware of that. I really love it. It’s my passion.
“Baseball is not going to be there all the time. If you’re fortunate enough to turn pro, when you’re 35 or 40 you’re pretty much done with sports. You’ve still got 40 or 50 more years [to live]. That’s where academics come in. And I really don’t want to just go through (college), just passing classes. I really want to put more effort into it. If baseball has nothing for me beyond college, I want to go to grad school. I want to get my Masters. I want to get my Doctorate. To do that you really need a high GPA to get into the schools I want to get into.”
Just like he’s been wanting to get into history since childhood.
“Video games got me into history,” Gonzalez said. “It starts with playing games. I think I took it way too seriously. I got really interested in it and just started reading more about it. As I grew older I kept playing these video games. Getting deeper and deeper into it. Reading and doing actual academic research on the topic. That’s how I came to love it. I guess you can say I’m a little bit of a geek. It’s true.”
Which led him to a game called “The Age of Empire.” It’s a strategy game based on medieval empires. It starts you out with a city. You gather resources and build your own army.
“Then you go destroy everybody else,” Gonzalez said. “It’s full of history characters and full of historical places. And all these things are what lit that spark in me. That’s what took me to go deeper into it.
“It took off from there and expanded into other areas. (The game) expanded my views into ancient history and then modern history. Then we started focusing on what I really liked the best. Out of all of history, my area of interest and expertise is military history. That’s what I’m really focused on. It started like that with video games.
On the surface Gonzalez’s ambitions seem totally American. It is not. The senior is a Mexico City native and is at UMES because he believed it gave him a better opportunity to play a more competitive level of baseball in America than back home. Blessed with a privileged upbringing, where he attended the best high school in the city and could have attended the best college in Mexico. Gonzalez opted instead to play baseball in the States.
When you look at the prospects of his playing 50 regular-season games and additional playoff games to boot, studying can be problematic.
“I think it’s all about time management,” Gonzalez said. “I think that’s the big secret. You have to set times for everything and you have to stick with it. For me, I have always been very good at school, but a lot of work has to be done. It means taking advantage of every little bit of time we have. On the bus rides, pull out the books. Read something. Write something. When we’re at the hotel, we have Internet access and can keep doing homework. It’s not easy. It’s very time consuming.
“We, as student athletes, get a lot of help from instructors, and all the departments. They understand we’re on the road. They allow us to turn in assignments late. They’ll allow you to make up tests when you’re on the road. They’re really helpful to us, but it’s really about time management. You have to be passionate about it. Just like with the video games.”
“There are times [when he was a child growing up]I would spend 10, 12 hours in front of the computer playing video games,” Gonzalez said. “My parents would be like, ‘You’ve got to stop that. That’s too much. It’s going to make you dumb.’ But it’s actually the opposite. You actually learn a lot from these games. They’re interactive. Way better than TV where you are passive instead of active — unlike video games. I would say the reason I am as smart and interested in [different] topics is video games.
To game the way he does, and perform the task of a closer patience is requisite to his makeup. It has served him well since it really gives him an advantage. He’s accustomed to marathon games in both and honing the ability to keep his wits about him.
“(Video games) go so long, your brain hurts, you’re tired and you want to leave,” Gonzalez said. “And at the end of the game it is like a chess game, that’s when you have to be the most focused. That’s when you have to be the most precise.
“In baseball, the middle of the game, you have a lot of errors, a lot of mistakes here and there. The end of the game is very precise. That’s when you have to focus the most. If you can give that last bit of energy that your opponent does not have, you’ll probably come out on top. It helped me in school and baseball and chess. You have to give everything you’ve got until the end. I think that’s going to fit very well in my roll as a closer. It just makes sense.”