Interviewed by Mauricio Segura
Gio Gonzalez, a native of Hialeah, Florida, was originally drafted by the White Sox in 2004. After spending time in the minors with the Sox, Phillies, and back with the Sox, Gio came to Oakland along with Ryan Sweeney on a January 3rd, 2008 trade for Nick Swisher.
Gio made his major league debut on August 6, 2008 vs. The Toronto Blue Jays in a losing cause. Fortunately however, through his committed discipline, Gio has worked hard to improve and establish himself as a fixture in the A's organization, and along with the other starters, a threat to American League batters.
Gio met with me after a workout, and as you will see, this 24 year old is wise beyond his years. He's humble, loves his family, knows what he wants in life. Above all, you'll find him full of inspiration. No doubt that this kid is gonna go far!
GBM – Hey Gio, thanks for sitting down with us today. First of all, I want to start at the beginning. You had previously told me a story of how baseball wasn't your favorite sport when you were growing up.
Gio – Yeah
GBM – And your dad made a deal with you that basically you couldn't say no to.
Gio – No, definitely not.
GBM – Which is the reason you're here now. Can you please relay that story for our readers again?
Gio – Yeah, It went down, when I was a kid, my dad always kicked us out of his house to have fun. He never wanted us playing super Nintendo or all the old school games. Dreamcast, Sega Genesis, you remember all those old school ones?
GBM – Oh yeah
Gio – So he'd always kick us out of the house and always wanted us to go out there and play sports. Just play, play, play, and play. He was a big baseball fanatic. He loved baseball. You know, he'd eat, sleep, breath baseball. And with me, I always wanted to keep my options open, I always wanted to play everything. So basketball was my favorite of all time sports. But my dad was realistic, I was realistic. I wasn't blind to the fact that I wasn't six foot eight. Just a straight basketball baller. You know, unless I was the next Muggsy Bogues, I wasn't gonna make it anyways, so. He was realistic and said, “look, know what? You're not gonna play basketball. You're not six foot eight. And you are definitely not gonna do anything in that sport. I don't know anything of it, so, all I can teach you is baseball, and that's all I'm gonna teach you. You wanna play something, you play baseball”. So I stuck with the baseball. He actually taught me the basics of baseball when I was three years old!
GBM – Ok, he's walking now. Pull up your diaper, grab the bat, time to go to the park. Ha ha! How was the training growing up?
Gio – (laughs) It was tough because my dad's an old school boss, you know, one of those old school Latin players. They're disciplined. They're especially disciplined when it comes to the game. You look at any Latin player from back home, from Miami, who's in the big leagues now. Each was very disciplined by their father. Guys like Sean Rodriguez of the Tampa Rays for example. His dad's a baseball coach. We played against each other with learned intensity, we all new the intensity of the sport, its seriousness, and we learned that from our dads. Now, you can have fun, but it's serious.
GBM – Yeah, you gotta do your job, of coarse.
Gio – Absolutely! And you know, my brother and I, we both played all the time. My brother Max Gonzalez Jr. We played it so much, it was just a sport we had fun doing. My dad taught us, It wasn't always easy, but somethings you have to overcome and have fun with it. And look where I'm at now because of the fact that I listened to him and went through it.
GBM – There ya go, that's what counts huh?
Gio – Ya, and now he's here enjoying the fruits of his labor.
GBM – ya, of coarse (both laughing)
Gio – And I'm out there busting my tail keeping the fruits of his labor going. If you imagine.
GBM – Somebody has to, right? He worked hard also, now he can just enjoy the product. It was a good investment, time to cash in!
Gio – Ya ya, basically, he's at a Labron James three-pointer at the end.
GBM – (both laughing) Thats cool. Now you've been in the big leagues for about what, three years
Gio – Ya, three years
GBM – And in each year you've been improving.
Gio – Trying, trying. Little by little.
GBM – The numbers are saying you're improving.
GBM – So since you've been in the big leagues, who has been you're biggest motivator or who has influenced you each year to do better?
Gio – Well, the influence part starts in the off season. I'm always training hard in the off season. Working really hard. Just spending time with old friends and family there in Hialeah, Florida. They motivate me. And then sometimes you see someone come up to you saying, “man, it's almost like a dream you're living right now that most of us wish to have, and you represent all of us”.
GBM – Like you carry the dreams of those in your community.
Gio – Ya, it's kind of like what Dallas Braden is to Stockton. Dallas Braden is Stockton. So that's the kind of feeling you get when you go back home and you see some old friends. That's the influence you always wanna go by. You're not gonna let yourself down, you're gonna let down a lot of people. As in the fact that you don't have to carry them, but you want to carry them. And I love it, I love the fact that my dad comes to Oakland to support me. I got friends and family back home supporting me. You know they're always checking up, people always looking out for new things. Even the fans now out here in Oakland, they know about that funny commercial I did. And it's kinda like, you think about it, its like somebody comes up to you and says, “oh my god, that commercials' hilarious”, and I'm here thinking, “was it that funny”? But it shows that it touched them in a way. Stuff like that just motivates you to keep improving. You look at that, and then you look at our starting pitchers. They're just unbelievable. The guys, just the chemistry of pitchers is unbelievable. We're have a great time doing what we do, and that's all that is important. Our pitching rotation is having fun, our coaching staff is having fun. You know, when you're having fun, the skies the limit.
GBM – You said it! You grew up south Florida, how do you like living in the bay area?
Gio – I love it sometimes on the weather department cause the weather is phenomenal. Sometimes. But not when the cold weather kicks in when the sun goes down. Coming from the Miami area, where its nice and humid, you can pretty much always walk around in t-shirts. Here, you walk around in t-shirts for 20 minutes and then you gotta run in and put on a jacket.
GBM – Ya, I see you in your hoodie all the time during night games!
Gio – (laughing) Ya, I'm in my hoodie, i'm in like three shirts underneath, I'm like freezing. But you know, I love it, I love it, I love it. When you're walking out of the room, its not burning hot. Like back home, where you just took a shower and within 10 minutes your dying for another one. California, for the most part, has beautiful weather.
GBM – Do you have like any favorite local hangout spots?
Gio – I'm always in Bay Street (San Francisco). I should've bought an apartment there. I live there literally, I'm always there. I'm always watching movies there, eating at California Pizza Kitchen, or PF Chang's, I love it there. And my dad, he tells me, “I wanna check out the city”, I go, alright dad, and I take him to the same place always, Bay Street. He's like, oh my god, you should be the mayor here of Bay Street!
GBM – It's a great area. There's always something new to see.
Gio – Phenomenal, I love it, it's a great place to eat and relax.
GBM – Whose the the best Shrimp Pasta Though? (Gio's favorite dish)
Gio – Oooh, I'd have to go with California Pizza Kitchen man. Their shrimp Pasta's a lot better than PF Chang's. PF Chang's does have a great lettuce wrap which is awesome.
GBM – How about back home, who's got the best?
Gio – Oooh, back home. I'm always, I'm a huge fan of Red Lobster. One of my favorite places to eat at has always been there. In fact, when I got drafted for the first time with the White Sox, that's where I was at. I was at Red Lobster having a celebration there.
GBM – Oh that's cool. I wonder if I can get them to advertise for me now that you've given them an endorsement?
Gio – Ha ha! Red Lobster has always been like the number one choice for me.
GBM – Do you like to travel at all in the off-season, or just veg out?
Gio – I just hang out with family and friends. I'm close to a lot of my family and I can only be with them in the off-season. I also hang out with my friends, Jeff and Abraham. We've all been great friends since high school. Jeff I've known since I was in my mom's stomach. The guy, he's only two years older than I am, and he's always been my best friend. Childhood friends. I even have my cousin here, Alonso, and, we all been around family. I always like to chill with my brother cause he has two babies, my nephews. So I kinda like just to stick around with my family as much as possible. The benefits of what I do on the field, I give back to them.
GBM – Great philosophy
Gio – Thanks
GBM – Now, we all know you're a great pitcher.
Gio – Who told you that lie?
GBM – Aww, c'mon! (both laugh), Do you have any hidden talents we don't know about? Do you play any instruments for example?
Gio – Oh no, no, no. I think I play better Guitar Hero than any instrument. I let the instruments come out of the tv. but no, my hidden talent is definitely painting. I draw with my dad in the off-season sometimes. My dad is actually the painter. He used to be a billboard artist. That guy can just mix colors all day long and is just phenomenal. Watching him, my dad is just so multi tasked, it's unbelievable, he can do almost everything.
GBM – Is it raw talent or did he go to school?
Gio – I think he's just a natural talented guy. Everything he does. That's why, when they said, do you have a hero, I say him always. He's always been the guy who's always been there for me. And not only that, I have two hero's in my life. One is Max Gonzalez, and one is my mother, Yolanda. They're the two hero's in my life.
GBM – That's so awesome to hear that you hold your parents at such high regards. What kind of music do you like?
Gio - Oh, everything except...not too much country music, please! I can deal with some country music because we do have a lot of American ballplayers on our team who play it, but I can't deal with it all day long. I can deal with it for a certain amount of time. But I'm a huge believer like on days that I pitch I listen to everything. Anything just like, I like Nas, I like Tupac, I like basically whatever you can think of that will hype you up for a game, that's what I listen to. And Pitbull, guys from back home too. All that.
GBM – How important is it for you as a sports figure, or as a celebrity in general, to give back to your fans?
Gio - You know what. A lot of people forget, when we were kids, we were fans. To be a baseball player, you don't just walk into the sport and say, well I don't know anything about it or I don't know anyone here. You know, you have to know something about baseball. You always had a favorite player you grew up watching. And you never like to be denied, no one likes to be denied for an autograph. You just don't wanna hang there and say, "oh, can you sign this"? And the guy just walks by you. You always try to give back, and there's always a kid there that always remembers that. You know my dad always humbled me, so did my mom. My mom, I kid you not, sits me down in the off-season, ties me to the chair. One arm to the chair, handcuffs my ankles to the chair, and tells me, "you better sign all this fan mail they've sent over here. Sign it and send it back"! So, I'm telling you. They're the heroes of my life. They're dedicated. My dad takes more care of the eating department, (giggling) and my mom takes care of all the signing and all the events I'm supposed to be going to, and all that. But, you know, without them, I don't know where I'd be. And that's basically, when you give back, you appreciate more. You look at it as a blessing every day, where you can make some kid, a different life for a different kid. When they come here from neighborhoods where they don't have much, like myself. I never had a thing. Look at Dallas, never had a thing. And Dallas does more for his community than anyone I know. So, you look at stuff like that. You know, that's why I look at Dallas as a mentor to me. A guy who had nothing, and you look at his life now, it's unbelievable. You can't ask for more things to happen to a perfect person. That guy is definitely well deserved, and we all try to follow. Craig Breslow, another guy who does a lot for his community. His three strikes foundation. You look at all this stuff
that's going on, we're all trying to get involved. Andrew Bailey with Craig Breslow, this three strikes foundation, all that is impressive. And you always wanna give back. And you know what, it's funny, but all the players, they wanna get involved. They all set a little meeting and everyone goes to these events, cause they know how important it is for every single one of them. And it is very important to the people who show up to these events. So a lot of this, we try to give back as much. And the only thing we ask for in return, is just to come see us. No harm in watching a baseball game and having a good time. Watch 9 innings of great baseball.
GBM - Absolutely. And now you and spanish broadcaster Amaury Pi Gonzalez...
Gio - Amaury and Manolo, gotta include both of them, ha ha!
GBM- That's true. You all set up A's Amigos.
Gio- Yes, its awesome.
GBM - Can you tell me a little about A's Amigos?
Gio - A's Amigos. We just get a bunch of kids. Spanish speaking kids. Bring them down here to the dugout. We chit chat. They ask us questions in spanish. They just wanna know everything. It's like how I was saying, kids who never had the opportunity to have someone give back and talk about. You take something so small, like a simple conversation of asking you questions and answering the question, you change the kids life. I remember I had one kid crying on this A's Amigos thing we did. And he was crying because he was in the same situation I was in, when I had nothing. We had nothing, my dad had nothing, my mom had nothing. We'd pushing the car in the middle of the street, with the worst car in the world! And you appreciate that. That's why, when people say, why do you sit down and talk to everybody and sign autographs? It's called humbled. I was humbled when I was a kid. And I'm pretty sure everyone in this organization has been humbled by what's been going on in their life.
GBM - And the hard work pays off. I mean...
Gio - You nailed it right on the head. Take your job for example. You work so hard to get where you're at. And is it paying off? Of coarse it is. Cause every day you come out here, you're dealing with what you'd be doing. The top of the line class. So it's something that you don't take it for granted.
GBM – No!
Gio - And this is one thing we talk about, where you don't take stuff like this for granted. Every situation that you get, do it.
GBM - You try to make it better
Gio - Every opportunity, you try to make it better. You can change someone's life with just a simple conversation. A simple hi changes someone's life. I'm a big believer in that. Just saying hi. That's it. I love a hi. Me personally, I just love saying hi. Hi and how are you, how's your day going. That's it man, you can make someone's day just by saying hi.
GBM – Hi is a powerful word. Where do you see yourself, or where would you like to see yourself in 15 years?
Gio - Hmm? Sitting back in yacht. With my whole family in a big 'ol mansion, and having a great time in Hialeah, Florida with my whole family just representing.
GBM - Sweet. Am I invited?
Gio - You're definitely invited
GBM - Ha ha, thank you.
Gio - You're always invited. On a nice island. Every weekend just relaxing. You know, just being grateful and thankful everyday to God by the blessings he's given to myself and my family.
GBM - Sound's great. Ok, last question. Cause if we continue we might have to print this interview in volumes. Ha ha! What is the best advice you would give a young ballplayer with major league aspirations?
Gio - You know what? You gotta work hard and not quit, because the journey is worth the ride. But more important, the life that is brought to you is definitely something you don't take for granted. You get an opportunity like this, most people would die to be in our situation. Don't take it for granted. You have a situation where you can enjoy this. Like I always said to myself when I was in the minor leagues, a cup of water in the big leagues tastes so much better than a cup of water in the minor leagues. It could be the same cup, same water, Its just the way you wanna approach it. And you know, everything right here, how they say it, everything right here is a slice of heaven. You can't ask for a better sport to play, especially in the big leagues.
GBM - Yeah, definitely. Well, thank you very much for sitting down with us here today. I really appreciate it, and you're a class act man. I had a great time.
Gio - I try to be humble. I learned that from my dad and my mom.
GBM - You have great parents.
Gio - Ya, Thank you, I appreciate it.
GBM - Alright, Go A's! (both laugh).
Photo from McClatchy-Tribune via Getty Images (c) 2010