Ten years after that big World Series win, you’ll find retired star outfielder Luis Gonzalez in a tiny front office at Chase Field, learning the business side of the game as special assistant to Diamondbacks President and CEO Derrick Hall. Gonzo talks about lasting bonds with the team, baseball beginnings and what he’s learned about being a dad to 13-year-old triplets Alyssa, Jacob and Megan.
Earliest inspiration to get in the game: I grew up in Tampa, Florida, in a primarily Latin community. My family is Cuban. Baseball has always had a strong heritage there. You would go on weekends to have Cuban coffee and Cuban bread at restaurants—one was called the Fourth of July Café. The old men, they’d play dominoes and cards. Their big thing was to look at the newspaper and check the box scores of all the local kids. I wanted to be one of those guys that they spoke about.
The crossroads of a college decision: It was either stay home and go to college or get away from my best friends and leave home to go the University of South Alabama, a college where I would come back to play against the University of South Florida. Not a popular choice with the local community. It was a huge turning point in my life. I had asked my mom to help me make that decision — my mom and dad were divorced. She said, “I can’t do this for you. I’m not going to school for you, I’m not going to be there to make those decisions for you.” I decided to venture off on my own. I grew up real fast. I became a man by the time I came home.
Traded to the Diamondbacks: I was home in Florida with my family and I got a phone call. I was playing for the Tigers in the American League and I was hoping that if there were any team I could go to, it would be the Diamondbacks. They were making so many moves, picking up Randy Johnson, Steve Finley (whom I played with on the Astros), Tony Womack, Jay Bell and Matt Williams. Guys I’d played against for so long. I admired them not only as players but as people. I was ecstatic.
The enduring bonds of that World Series win: Every time we get together, it’s like we never missed a beat. We call, keep in contact. We all laughed, we all cried together—it was a unique group of guys. In my 18 years of playing in the majors, I can honestly tell you that that was a pretty special group. The city was energized; [it] embraced us. And we did the same with them. For me, it’s just exciting that something small like a baseball game has impacted so many people in their lives. It brought neighborhoods together. It’s pretty unique.
What he misses—and doesn’t miss—about playing in the major leagues: I miss the camaraderie. I miss being around the guys, competing every single day. I don’t miss the 0-for-4 nights, the pressure you put on yourself every night to perform. You have your struggles. You’re going to have some bad games. I tried not to let my emotions show in public to my teammates and to the fans. I held it all in as much as I could until I (got) in my car. I’m sure people have seen me on the 51 with my head sticking out the window, screaming and hollering. I took it hard, because I knew that there were a lot of people counting on me.
On the birth of triplets Megan, Jacob, and Alyssa: It was exciting, scary at the same time, because you go from zero to three [so quickly], and then to see how little the kids were. You could get your wedding ring and slide it all the way up an arm. It was amazing, it was chaotic and it was fun at the same time.
Three distinct personalities: Jacob is more of the easygoing type. Alyssa, she’s more the artsy type—she loves singing and performing and acting. She’ll drop a tear on you in a heartbeat. Megan is more of the social butterfly in the group. She is the texter, and she has her network of friends and she’s more into wanting to get along with everybody. Alyssa could care less about that, and Jacob is kind of a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. It’s a pretty unique contrast that we have here at the house.
Parenting with wife Christine: It’s a good mix, I think. I’m always tougher on Jacob. I melt for the girls. They know if they want something, they come to me. Jacob knows if it’s something sports-related he’ll come to me but if it’s anything else he’ll go to mom. She’s always there to comfort them.
On fame and fatherhood: I think my girls, when they were younger, could care less that I played baseball. And that was the fun part about it. But their friends and their friends’ families knew I was Luis Gonzalez the baseball player. My daughters would say, “Dad, take us to school. Dad, could you walk us in?” They would walk in far enough for everybody to see who their dad was, and that’s all my girls wanted. So once all their friends came over and started signing autographs with me they were gone.
On coaching Jacob’s baseball team: I’m still learning. My wife always tries to remind me that I’m a parent, too. So once I leave the ballpark, I’ve got to leave the coach there and become the parent. It’s hard because I’m usually that coach who’s yelling at him, and now I have to turn the switch.
This interview was posted on Sept. 30, 2011, by multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint.