Gabriella Gonzalez represents a classic case of how quickly things can change.  In a mere 11-day period back in 2016, her life’s path veered from typical to atypical.  

Gonzalez grew up in northern California and was a softball player and sometimes coach while attending college.  Her future plans were a bit hazy but were aligned with the conventional.

“I wanted to be a nutritionist or maybe do something with my [kinesiology] degree,” she said.  “Then maybe get a master’s degree and get on with a career.  Though I had coached some, that was never going to be my career.”

Well, you know what they say about plans.

Instead of taking a standard path, Gonzalez took off for Europe and has spent most of the last seven years playing and coaching softball in Austria.  She is player/coach for her club and head coach of the Austrian national team, earning 2022 coach-of-the-year honors in Austria.  She is now in a relationship with a Greek man who works as a ship’s captain, and she plans to remain in Europe for the long term.

Photo: Gabriella (right), is the head coach of the Austrian National Softball Team.

“If you had asked me 10 years ago where my life would go, this is not at all what I would have thought,” she acknowledged.

And the turn came within that small window in 2016 as she neared graduation from California State University – East Bay in Hayward, Calif.  

A representative of Baseball Jobs Overseas had contacted the Cal State coach about several players, including Gonzalez, regarding overseas opportunities, but Gonzalez didn’t take it seriously.  

“I’d never even heard of playing overseas,” she said.

But matters accelerated quickly after she talked with her coach, Claire Sua-Amundson, and then got an offer from the Vienna Wanderers of the Austrian Softball League.

“I knew she’d spent her life up to that point in northern California, but I’d seen other players go overseas, and I encouraged her to try it,” Sua-Amundson said.  “I said this was her chance to travel since she was young and had no commitments, and I thought it would be a life-changing opportunity.”

That got Gonzalez to thinking about it, but another roadblock was her fear of flying.  She had taken only three or four flights to that point and was white-knuckled each time.  Once during her senior season in college, the team had to fly to San Diego for a game, and she asked if she could drive instead.

“I told her no, we were a college softball team and were going to fly,” Sua-Amundson said. “She was a nervous wreck, but she did it.”

Despite her fears, Gonzalez began to entertain the idea of going overseas.

Photo: Gabriella takes a swing for the Vienna Wanderers of the Austrian Softball League.

“At first, it just seemed like just a shot in the dark,” she said, “but I talked with Jimmy [Jensen of Baseball Jobs Overseas] and found out more about what they do. Then, when the Wanderers contacted me, I started to realize it was possible.  I remember being in my apartment and on the phone with Jimmy asking ‘Is this real?  Is this really happening?’”

It was.

“The person from the Wanderers said they wanted me and needed me on a certain day,” Gonzalez recalled, “So I had 11 days to take my final exams, graduate, plan what I needed to take with me, say good-bye to everyone and move out of my place.  It was a crazy time. I didn’t even have time to get all my stuff out of the apartment, and my family had to finish for me.”

Suddenly, the woman who had traveled little up to that point found herself on a flight bound for Vienna, and the experience wasn’t as traumatic as she had expected.

“Things had taken place so fast that I don’t think I fully realized what was happening,” she said with a laugh.  “I got on the plane, was able to relax some, and was fine.  It was such an adventure to travel alone.”

And the adventure hasn’t stopped.  Her first go-round in Vienna lasted three months, and she quickly became enamored – “I cried when it was time to leave.”

She returned to the U.S., worked, and served as an assistant coach at Sierra College, the junior college where she had starred as a player prior to transferring to Cal State.  “That was  great training for what I’m doing now . . . it helped me grow quickly as a coach.” The Wanderers asked her back for the 2017 season, and after that she began to consider staying there on a more permanent basis.

It is difficult for foreigners to get Austrian visas, but Gonzalez was accepted into a master’s degree program in health and physical activity at the University of Vienna that enabled her to get a student visa.  After that, she was hired by the Austrian Baseball Federation as an assistant coach with the national team and obtained a work visa.

Photo: Gabriella coaching for the Austrian National Softball Team.

She has been a player/coach for the Wanderers from the start and also coaches at the Austrian Baseball Softball Federation’s youth academy.  The Wanderers played in the European Cup last year and did well enough to qualify for the Premier Cup – matching the top teams in Europe – this August.  She has primarily played second base, winning a couple of Gold Glove awards, and also received an award for her hitting. She has averaged .442 at the plate over seven seasons. 

Gonzalez served as an assistant with the national team for four years until becoming head coach before the 2022 season.  In her first go-round as head coach, the team jumped five places in the world rankings, from 29th to 24th.

None of which surprises Sua-Amundson.

“As a player, Gabby was very athletic, could play most any position, and had a great work ethic and passion for the sport,” she said.  “She can see the big picture on the field and can think several plays ahead, which a lot of players can’t do.  She was voted newcomer of the year in our conference the season before I arrived and was second-team all-conference.”

In addition, she saw Gonzalez’ natural leadership abilities.  

“She’s like a coach on the field.  I was hired after recruiting had been completed, so I relied on her and the other seniors to learn about the program.  Gabby was really good with the freshmen and had great insights about where we needed to go with the team. 

“I remember a time when the team was running up and down the bleachers as part of our conditioning program, and the players were just miserable.  Gabby got them together and said this was one thing we had to do to get better, and they got back to it.  I could see then that she could really make an impact on a program.”

And Gonzalez’ plan is to continue making an impact from Europe.  In addition to playing and coaching softball, she is a certified Group Fitness trainer, as well as an Active Aging Trainer accredited by the European Register Of Exercise Professionals.

“America is home, and I miss it, especially my grandparents,” she said, “but I love Europe and have built a life here.  I love to travel, too – no more fear of flying – and it’s a lot easier to travel from Europe because the countries are so much closer.  The best way I can describe it is that there is more a sense here of working to live rather than living to work.”