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Former Ole Miss stars Tim Elko, Jacob Gonzalez relishing chance to play together again

Former Ole Miss first baseman Tim Elko can’t say he was surprised when he saw Jacob Gonzalez get a hit in his first game with the Birmingham Barons on May 21. He saw the former star Rebels shortstop do that plenty during their time together in Oxford.

After two years of being separated, Elko and Gonzalez are teammates once again, this time with the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.

Elko was drafted in the 10th round by the White Sox in 2022 while Gonzalez was the franchise’s first-round pick (15th overall) in 2023. The two grew to be close while they were teammates at Ole Miss for three seasons. Now teammates again, neither is taking the moment for granted.

“We were super good friends at Ole Miss and got to play on a national championship team together. And, we just grew a good bond while we were playing at Ole Miss,” Elko said. “So, any time you get to reunite with one of your really good friends, it’s a lot of fun. Especially in a game like baseball, where you’re together all the time.”

When Gonzalez was drafted by the White Sox, Elko was watching on television back in Winston-Salem with the franchise’s High-A team. The two exchanged texts about what it would be like when they were able to play together again.

“We have been talking about playing together since I got drafted,” Gonzalez said.

That dream became a reality in May, when Gonzalez was called up to the Barons from Winston-Salem. He proceeded to go 3 for 5 in his first game. Since being called up to Double-A, Gonzalez is hitting .323 with a home run and 10 RBIs.

Some things never change.

“I think in his first at-bat he got a knock, and everyone was like, ‘Yep, this guy’s good.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I tried to tell you guys,’” Elko said with a laugh. “He’s been unreal since he’s been up here, and I don’t think it’s really going to slow down anytime soon.”

Elko and Gonzalez etched their respective names into Ole Miss history during their storied Rebels tenures, with the highlight coming in Omaha two summers ago. The Rebels started the season ranked in the top-five and ascended to No. 1 in the country before a mid-season skid saw them almost miss the postseason completely. After being the last team selected into the 2022 NCAA Tournament field, the Rebels went 10-1 in the postseason and won the program’s first ever College World Series crown.

Both Elko and Gonzalez starred at various moments during that historic run. Elko hit three home runs in the clinching game of the Coral Gables regional against Arizona and hit five home runs overall in 11 postseason games to go with his 14 RBIs. “The Captain” also hit a home run in the first game against Oklahoma in the College World Series final, one of his four hits in the game.

Elko’s 24 home runs in 2022 are a program-record for a season, and his 46 career long balls are second all-time. He hit .295 with 28 home runs and 106 RBIs over three minor league levels last season and is currently hitting .287 with six home runs and 25 RBIs with the Barons.

Gonzalez had three hits in the title-clinching game against the Sooners in 2022, including a go-ahead solo home run in the sixth and a game-tying RBI single in the eighth. Gonzalez’s 186 career runs scored and 123 walks drawn are third and tied for fifth in program history, respectively.

Gonzalez looks nearly exactly the same as a player as he did a few years ago, Elko said, from his “great swing” to his poise. That composure was his calling card in college too — never too high, never too low. Elko still laughs when thinking about the rare moment Gonzalez did wear his emotions on his sleeve.

“Even when he’s not going great or not playing the best that he can, you would never be able to really tell a difference. It’s so impressive how even-keel he can stay,” Elko said. “And I think that made it even cooler when we did win the national championship. He actually showed a little … emotion. He was yelling and super happy … I think about that moment a lot.”

Gonzalez, meanwhile, does see differences in Elko’s approach. He sees a more patient hitter who is willing to see more pitches.

“He’s definitely more polished. … I think he’s gotten a little more patient at the plate … He’s taking more pitches that I think he would have swung at previously,” Gonzalez said. “And, obviously, he’s getting stronger, because he’s a man already. He’s hitting the ball hard and doing his thing.”

Elko and Gonzalez occasionally relive memories of their time together at Ole Miss and the people who helped make that time so special. They don’t, however, spend a ton of time talking about that magical run to Charles Schwab Stadium other than a moment here and there when it’s relevant. There’s too much going on in their professional lives now — too much in front of them — to focus too much on the past.

The goal for both Elko and Gonzalez is to play for the White Sox one day. Right now, though, both are relishing their time together and are hopeful they get do it again in the South Side of Chicago.

“That’s the goal, is to get up to the big leagues and win games for the Chicago White Sox,” Elko said. “But we try to focus on where we are right now, and just trying to get better every single day so that hopefully when we get our chance up there, we can make the most of it.”