The Mavericks baseball team was on a bus heading to Little Rock, Arkansas, when the news broke that the Sun Belt Conference was suspending its events.
The players were stunned into silence, and what followed was a period of wondering what would come next.
Senior pitcher Cesar Gomez echoed his teammates’ concerns, but he instead focused on taking the next step in his career.
“I just put my head down and then made sure I was going to start that journey,” Gomez said.
A few months after the shortened 2020 season’s end and a nontraditional MLB draft, Gomez and senior infielder/outfielder Zac Cook have taken the next step. On June 14, Gomez signed a professional contract with the Houston Astros and Cook signed with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Cook and Gomez would’ve been drafted had it not been limited to five rounds this year, head coach Darin Thomas said.
“With only five rounds, that limits a lot of people,” Thomas said. “That doesn’t take away from what they’ve done.”
Gomez finished the 2020 season leading the team in saves and compiled a 2.08 ERA with a 1-0 record. He transferred from North Central Texas College after the 2018 season.
He brought a lot of energy to the program despite injury issues early on, associate head coach Jon Wente said. When he plays, Gomez cares about the eight players behind him and the 20 players in the dugout.
“When a game’s on the line, there’s nobody better that you want on the mound,” Wente said.
Gomez arrived at the program as an unfinished project, but he worked hard to improve after his initial injury, Wente said.
Thomas said they should’ve recruited Gomez out of high school because there often isn’t a second chance after a player goes to junior college. He remembered the coaches working with Gomez that fall after his wrist was healed, which was an important part of the growth process.
“We got very fortunate that on the back end we were able to get it done,” Thomas said in regard to recruiting Gomez from junior college.
Gomez attributed part of his success on the field to knowing his coaches had his back when he played. Their confidence in him while he healed meant a lot to him.
Cook finished the 2020 season batting .321 with 12 RBIs and four homeruns. He was recruited as a freshman out of Marcus High School and played his first season as a Maverick in 2017.
He fulfilled a lifelong dream of playing professional baseball when he signed a contract with the Blue Jays. He grew up in a family that loved baseball and supported him as he developed his skills.
Growing up, he played other sports such as ice hockey, soccer and basketball, but he always came back to baseball. He still remembers learning “Set, aim, fire,” when he was younger, a cadence meant to teach younger players how to throw.
When he arrived at UTA, Cook said he wasn’t very good, but Thomas’s guidance helped him improve throughout his four years in the program. He became a better baseball player and a better thinker during his tenure.
Cook wouldn’t trade the last four years for anything in the world.
“It really was a journey, and I’m thankful for it,” he said.