Jose Gomez remembers a single, solitary plastic chair.
That was the original extent of the furnishings in his family’s home after they left everything behind in their native Cuba and came to Hialeah.
“I don’t know how we slept that first night,” said Gomez, a star outfielder at Miami Dade College who was 7 years old at the time.
Gomez can recall the exact day he arrived in Hialeah — Dec. 14, 2000. His grandfather, Pedro Aguila, had recently been released from a Cuban jail, where he had been sentenced to 32 years as a political prisoner, but let go after six.
The adjustment to life in a new country has not been easy for Gomez or the 13 other family members who made the journey. But baseball has been the one constant.
In Cuba, his dad, Ramon Gomez, would pitch to him under a tree. Once they arrived in Hialeah, Ramon, an electrician, found a park where he continued to teach his son the game.
By the time he was a high school freshman at Brito Miami Private, Gomez was a starting outfielder on a team that made it to the state semifinals.
Gomez then led Brito to the state final in his senior year before earning a scholarship to play junior-college baseball at Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y.
However, Gomez hated the cold weather and lasted just four months there. His weight ballooned from 172 to 198 — and that’s on a diminutive 5-5 frame.
“It was so cold that it made you not want to do anything,” Gomez said. “I felt like a penguin.”
So he came back home and tried out for the MDC team as a walk-on player in the fall of 2012.
Veteran MDC coach Danny Price took one look at Gomez’s size — “It’s stretching it a bit to say he’s 5-5,” he said — and didn’t like his chances of making the squad.
But Gomez persevered and did more than just make the team. He hit .390 as a freshman last season, earning the attention of scouts from Major League Baseball organizations, as well as four-year colleges.
“Jose is built like a fire hydrant,” Price said, “but a fire hydrant who can move. He’s fast, has a great arm and plays with a chip on his shoulder that makes him seem like he’s 6-foot-2.”
Gomez, who is now on scholarship as a sophomore, said his size is an issue he has fought his entire life.
“People are always telling me I’m not big enough or good enough,” said Gomez, a sport-management major. “But God gave me this [size], and I’m going to work with what I have.”
Price said Gomez’s hard-charging nature on the field has impressed his teammates. And MDC pitcher Kyle Carter agreed.
“I love Jose,” Carter said. “Size doesn’t matter to him. He’s always diving around, sliding around. It gives me the chills just to watch him play.”