“It’s going to be that way forever,” Max told Gio, so accept it, use it as fuel then show them. And Gio listened. The compact lefty is a prototype from Herb Pennock, Whitey Ford and Dave McNally to Ron Guidry, Johan Santana and Tom Glavine. But it’s a rare, and skeptically viewed breed.
When Gio was traded the first time, as the “player to be named later,” he shrugged it off. When he was traded again, as a throw-in, he doubled down on fitness. When the same team, the White Sox, traded him away a second time, he went to Oakland — baseball’s Pluto — and kept trying to improve, even as American League hitters crushed him in his first two trips up to the big leagues.
But by the fourth time he was traded in eight pro seasons, Gio Gonzalez’s worth was validated. At 26, he fetched a king’s ransom for the A’s: four big league prospects. As soon as the Washington Nationals got him, they locked him up with a five-year $42 million deal, plus clauses that can keep him under team control for two more seasons for $24 million more. The Nats didn’t think they’d added a puzzle piece. They saw a cornerstone.
When you meet Gio Gonzalez, you get Max and Yoly’s son — the hard, smart dad, and the softer give-the-kid-a-day-off mom. You know it because Gio tells you: His success, the $42 million, that’s about them and for them.
Max grew up tough, never got to play as much ball as he wanted and, when it rained on too-rare Sundays when he had a game as a child, he broke down in frustration and cried. But he never stopped studying the sport.
“If you give me four years of your life, I will teach you everything you need to know,” he told his son. And Gio promised that he would.
When his father taught him a curveball, it wasn’t a normal method. “I can’t explain it or show how to do it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a different grip, a snap of the wrist he taught me. I’ve done it all my life. ‘Make it fall off the table, always 12-to-6,’ he’d say. Beside where we lived was a long narrow area like a hallway and I’d go out there and throw.” And throw and throw.
So what do you call your trademark pitch? Is it a Snap Dragon, an Uncle Charlie or the Yakker? “I just call it my dad’s curveball,” he said.
These days baseball has travel teams, academies, layers of youth leagues and year-round accelerated instruction that can help a Bryce Harper to the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16. Gonzalez came up the ’20s or ’50s way, playing ball “from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., old-fashioned sandlot ball,” he said. “Play anywhere you can, not usually on grass. Maybe break a window, then go someplace else to play, come home scraped up and worn out.” And happy.