30 August 2009

The Gifts of Gonzo

It's said that half of life's success can be traced to just showing up, and Luis Emilio Gonzalez certainly did that. He showed up for two decades in the major leagues, and in two of his finest seasons, never missed a game.

He was an excellent, less than great player, who accomplished great things through discipline that infused his preparation and play. He stayed in prime shape, took pride in his job, and came early to practice, even after he was the best player on the team. A favored discipline of his era was the use of tacitly approved supplements, and it's likely he did that too.

Off the field, Gonzo was a cross between earlier, effusive ambassadors of the game - like Ernie Banks and Buck O'Neil - and today's aloof "professionals". He could sound politely scripted on camera, but was famously warm and engaging off it, especially to fans and so-called ordinary folk. That's a rare thing, to be nicer off camera than on. Most of us are the other way around.

Time and again, Gonzo would engage people, often the least among us. At the ballpark, at hospitals, at the malls Christmas shopping. the extent of Valley testimonials have become something of a joke around town:


Hey, I was drivin' down 7th to pick up grandma, when my right rear blew, an' five minutes later, whodya think pulls over and fixes my flat. Gonzo!! Then he treated us all to dinner!

For a superstar, he made a point of making eye contact and greeting fans on a first name basis. Whether that was his informal nature, or he felt it his duty, it played extremely well. People remembered. Felt close to him and personally connected with his fledgling franchise.

Here's a link to my favorite Gonzo remembrance - from a former teammate. Luis doesnt save anyone's cat or cure a child's cancer, and in fact there's no punchline really. It's just a summary from a credible voice who saw him every day, and I have a hard time getting it out of my head.

Yesterday's press conference stuck with me too, as Gonzo tearfully retired from a vocation that passed him by a while ago. It's easy to say he's a middle-aged kid who needs to grow up - and there's truth to that. But we also live in an era when sports stars are too often discouraged from being vulnerable human beings. They're wary of being themselves before an agenda-driven press and the insatiable scrutiny of joyless adult customers disguised as fans.



Despite that, Luis Gonzalez warmly welcomed people into his life, one person at a time. Mostly kids. His startling availability and friendly nature reminded Phoenicians of the power of kindness and decency. He taught countless children, at eye level, that professional athletes really arent that different, and that someday, they too might do extraordinary things. Those are marvelous, lasting gifts to a burgeoning metropolis. As big as any blooper.

9 comments:

PAUL said...

I can't click on the link.

Diamondhacks said...

Fixed...thx

Russell said...

Gonzo got the absolute maximum from his talents and that's one of the reasons that fans love him.

He also has the greatest stat in all of baseball;

"Got the winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series"

Diamondhacks said...

Greatest, sure. But his most incredible stat was 3000 hits.

PAUL said...

He didn't have 3000 hits.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/g/gonzalu01.shtml

Diamondhacks said...

Paul,

'Incredible" was a (very dry) reference to a stat Gonzo was obsessed with that he was never going to reach.

Fixed...thx :-)

PAUL said...

That was like a tree falling in the woods or a Dennis Miller witticism (from when he was still a comedian and not a right wing extremist secretly in mutual love with Bill O'Reilly). I should've laughed out of politeness.

Diamondhacks said...

Dennis Miller - The Undisputed King of Hopelessly Esoteric References

Ouch :-(

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