By Jason Cohen
Alex Gouin thought he would follow in his parents’ footsteps and become a doctor, but in July, his dream came true as he signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
“I never imagined playing baseball professionally,” Gouin explained. “If I was in Cuba, I wouldn’t get the opportunity to play baseball past 15.”
Gouin, 24, a native of West Orange, who grew up in Cuba, credits his grandfather, Handle Roberts with instilling in him the passion for baseball. The two of them spent countless days practicing and his grandpa knew Gouin had something special.
“When someone teaches you something for the first time it sticks with you,” he said.
However, Gouin noted baseball in Cuba is very different. There is no Little League and kids often use boxes or cartons as gloves.
In 1997, Roberts moved to the U.S. and Gouin and his family followed four years later. His love for baseball continued here. Not only was it tough adjusting to America and learning English, but finding a coach that wanted him was a challenge, he explained. Eventually, he joined a team and thrived.
“Things just felt natural for me,” he remarked. “Things just fall in place when I’m on the baseball field.”
According to Gouin, he often relied on his talent to succeed. Things changed when his West Orange High School baseball coach Stephen Zichella told him he needed to work harder because he had a future in baseball.
In his senior year in 2010, Gouin had a 1.02 earned run average, holding opposing batters to a .156 batting average while striking out 69. He also hit .484 with five home runs.
He attended the University of Hartford where Coach Justin Blood opened his eyes to baseball. In addition to mechanics and fundamentals, he “taught him how to love the game.”
The team was not very good his freshman year and he and Blood would often argue.
“In my mind, the hard work I was doing was enough,” he said. “He kind of taught me there was always going to be someone working harder than you.”
As a senior, he earned a school record with nine saves in a single season, was named to the America East All-Conference Second Team (posting an earned run average of 2.74, allowing seven runs, all earned, on 21 hits over 23 innings) and striking out 15 batters.
He graduated in 2014, but a foot injury kept him out of the Major League Baseball Draft. This was a tough break, but he stayed focused and in 2015, was signed by an independent minor league team, the Rockland Boulders, in Rockland, N.Y. For about a year a scout from the Arizona Diamondbacks followed him and finally in July, the call came from the big leagues.
Gouin expressed gratitude to God and his parents Alex and Rebecca for helping him achieve his dream. He is playing for the Missoula Osprey, a Single A rookie ball team in Missoula, Montana and adjusting to life.
He found an apartment with a few teammates and even bought a bike to save money. As he gets used to his new surroundings, his goal is to keep working hard and make it to Arizona.
So far he has an earned run average of 3.90 and a record of 1-3. He gave advice to anyone aspiring to play baseball.
“Follow your dreams,” he said. “There are many setbacks you will have, but those setbacks are essential.”