It is likely that no major leaguer has more fun being a major leaguer than Gio Gonzalez of the Washington Nationals. Yes, he won 20 games for the team with the best record in the league and is a leading Cy Young contender in the NL. But beyond that, his excitement, passion and happiness shines through in seemingly everything he does, and it rubs off on appreciative teammates. Maybe it comes from humble pro beginnings when Gonzalez got traded around so frequently he wasn't sure if he was coming or going. Well, Gonzalez is settled now, and he (sort of) stood still long enough recently for the latest Answer Man session.
David Brown: The White Sox drafted you and traded you to the Phillies. Not long after, the Phillies traded you back to the White Sox. Not long after that, the White Sox traded you ... to the A's. Do you think, if the White Sox had send you back to the Phillies just one more time, they would have perfected whatever it was they were trying to do?
Gio Gonzalez: They were just playing keep away with me between those two teams. You know what? All said and done, what they did for me was give me an opportunity. The White Sox was the first team I cherished because they took a chance and drafted me. The Phillies was another opportunity, a learning curve being 20 years old playing at Double-A — which, from what I've heard of their history is rare to do. There's so many positive things, that I try to look at a glass as half-full.
As a person, at the time it was, like, "Man, why are you traded so much?" But the names I was traded for were big-name guys, and I wasn't a Bryce Harper, 19-year-old phenom. I still had time to grow. At 19, I was still figuring out how to throw a fastball. Speaking on that point, I needed to grow up and that's what happened. I had to come to terms with it. I understood it. I didn't get mad. I thanked them every day. And the team I really want to give my heart out to is Oakland, which gave me an opportunity to be in the big leagues. That's the team that gave Mike "Rizz" a chance to see me pitch and perform. But I was always trying to keep a smile on my face, because life is rough. Why make it harder?
DB: This is you talking now, but back then it must have been harder to understand.
GG: Absolutely, but I'm 27 now. But things happen for a reason and Oakland was an opportunity for me to grow up and hit a wall.
(Teammate and one-time Answer Man subject Edwin Jackson comes by with an iPad, showing video highlights and stills of a game they pitched against each other.)
Edwin Jackson: That was the game, G!
GG: That's right, me and you. E.J. dominated that game. Jesus.
Edwin Jackson: Haha. I looked up and I said, "Who is that? Is that Gio? [Peeved] off at his teammates!
(Mark DeRosa, another Answer Man veteran, comes by.)
Mark DeRosa: He asks crazy questions, man. Head's up.
GG: I have to tell Dave to make sure not to do that. But … what were we talking about?
DB: Learning curve?
GG: Yeah, Oakland let me hit a wall, but kept pushing me to mature. And I think what Billy Beane did for me, trading me over to the Nats, he told me: "I put you in a great situation. A great spot." And now that I can sit back and I'm sitting here talking about it, he is above-average in the way he thinks.
DB: Can you believe how much pitching the A's have lost, but still have, and are 20 games over .500?
GG: Oh, I 100 percent believe it. Trust me, I've been down there. I've been where … they grind. For every pitcher there, it seems like you're pitching for a job to lose. There was never a break. Never anything easy. That's why I tried my hardest to stay in shape, to work out harder and try to not get hurt. It's crazy how one little situation happens and you can get out of that rotation in a week. And your name gets passed on after that.
DB: OK, speaking of DeRosa and his left-field questions. In "Moneyball" there's a scene where the David Justice character wants to buy a can of soda pop and it costs a dollar. Is that machine still in the clubhouse and has the price gone up?
GG: No, no, no. I think it's Hollywood. When I was there, I loved all the clubhouse guys. Steve Vucinich, the equipment manager. Nick Paparesta, the head trainer. The way they treated all of us was like royalty. They took care of us. Young kids who were still in school, they worked. And we had opponents come in and talk to us about how hard the clubhouse guys worked. We appreciated that kind of stuff. Maybe there were harder times before my time there, but they treated us like royalty.
DB: The other day when you fell down, you said something to Ryan Zimmerman that cracked him up. What happened?
GG: Zim and (Adam) LaRoche came up to me and they go, "Are you all right?" And I said, "No, man, I'm hurt right now!" And LaRoche goes, "What happened?!" And I go, "My pride is shattered!" Hahaha. That's exactly what I said. Z-Man didn't hear that part, so he came closer and asked if I was all right, and I said: "No, I'm freaking embarrassed!" And he was dying laughing. As soon as everyone got off the mound, I tipped my cap to the fans. It was just the icing to the cake to the day. When you're going for your 20th, make sure to make yourself look like an ass!
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DB: Experts say that the NL Cy Young race will come down to R.A. Dickey and yourself. How effective is your knuckleball?
GG: Haha. I couldn't throw a knuckleball if my life depended on it. What he's doing is remarkable. I have nothing but respect for the guy. To do what he's doing, at his age, and he's one of FIVE in the world. We can't talk about Cy Young too much out of respect for the game and for the opponent, but when it's said and done, after all the voting, he's putting on a show. And I'm trying to put on a show too for our team. I think we do it not only for us, but for the fans. This is what you guys pay to see.
DB: Did the rookies look better than you expected when they dressed as teen gymnasts?
GG: Ha! Hehe. Oh, man. They should have done a little floor dance, some tumbling. What do you call those things with the ribbon? Rhythm gymnastics. The little wand thing, some baton twirling. I remember my rookie hazing. It wasn't fun. And with mine, they had a team photographer for that. Nowadays, technology has taken off.
DB: What did you have to dress up as?
GG: I had to do it three times. I was dressed up as a "Yodelay! Girl." And the next one was a Teletubbie. And then as a heavy-set Hawaiian chick. You'll never forget your rookie hazing, I know that for a fact.
DB: A Yodelay! Girl?
GG: Yodelay. Blond hair, a strap here. Beer mugs. The Ricola chick. Riiiiiicola! Swedish chick.
DB: Is there anything about Bryce Harper that would surprise people?
GG: He does things that people, the only thing they can do is pick their jaws up off the floor. The way he plays is out of this world. He's a kid that's enjoying life. Everything he does feels like it's one step ahead of the game. The energy never stops. He's got a never-die mentality. That's the way you're supposed to do it. He comes brand-new to the field every day. Imagine when he has a couple more years under his belt.
DB: Does Davey Johnson tell good stories about Dwight Gooden, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell and the '86 Mets.
GG: When he has a microphone and speaks up, yes. Most of the time he whispers, so you try to pick up what he says little by little. But he's very motivational. He tries to bring out the animal in you. That's why I have nothing but love and respect for him.
(We walk toward the manager's office. Gio sticks his head in.)
GG: Davey's principal of the office, a guy you want to kick some ass for.
DB: But does he bring up a lot of examples from that '86 Mets team? That was the team when I was a kid.
GG: He doesn't really, because this is a new team that needs new motivation. He's trying to build up confidence for us, and he doesn't really use others as examples. If you get to the point where you have to go that far back, it's almost like, "Turn the page already."
DB: You know him as well as anyone. How is Stephen Strasburg handling not playing?
GG: He's such a competitor, it kills him every day to see that we're out there and he wants to be out there and be a part of it. And he is a part of it. He doesn't understand. We want him out there. He knows that his team feels for him. We want the best for him. He's done so much for us. That's 15 games that he won for us, where we could be back. Those 15 games, an All-Star, he represented D.C. to the max. What else could a guy who came back from Tommy John possibly do? To have an opportunity to have pitch alongside him, he's a superstar. With an arm like that and the mindset — the way he thinks — he's only going to get a higher ceiling. Pretty soon, he's going to be playing in a league of his own. He's such a competitor. We all are, and we vibe together. It's a great combination. I think what you're going to see out of Stras is something most people can only dream of having. Superstar status.
DB: So how do you let him know that he's still on the team even though he's inactive?
GG: Just keep him a part of it. He comes and hits (batting practice) with us. He still throws with us. He still stretches with the guys. He's still one of us. Nothing's changed from that standpoint. I feel he's trying to be more at peace now. I think he's trying to be enjoying this moment. He's trying to have fun. But at the same time, you can see he wants to grab ball. He wants to pitch. And it kills him every day. But we all know the situation. I don't want him around just for this season, I want him around for the rest of his career.
DB: Who on the Nats would make the best cage fighter for Jayson Werth's homemade league? What about Mike Morse?
GG: "Mikey Mo," yeah, is a huge guy. But if you're looking for an aggressive kind of guy, one that would throw you off, I'd go with Chien-Ming Wang. Big guy. He's come with that Taiwanese on you.
DB: Is that a martial art?
GG: I think so. He's quiet but deadly. My bets are on him.
DB: Should every player be made to wear Tyler Clippard's goggles for protection and style?
GG: Who's that guy with the hammer?
DB: The Sledge-o-Matic? Gallagher?
GG: Gallagher! Sprays watermelon all over the show. Those glasses are pretty cool. My opinion: If you got style, I think he's pulling it. He's got swag with those glasses. When they fog up, it's pretty hilarious. He gets to wiping them. He's got the Mo Vaughn look. He's awesome, man. What he's done for us, it's been the key to our success in the bullpen. He can wear any glasses he wants. If he wants to wear Elton John's glasses, then go ahead. He's still a bad-ass in the bullpen.
DB: Does your dad still own the scooter store down in Miami?
GG: No, thank God. I would have lost him at an early age. My dad was getting gray hair and he almost had a heart attack. It's such a stressful job and it didn't hit him until a year into the business but he said (about me), "I want to travel, I want to see him play baseball." I was grateful that the Nationals family and Mike Rizzo to give me an opportunity to sign right away and take care of my family. And now he has an opportunity to do that.
DB: Do you still have your scooter collection?
GG: Haha. I think we want to keep that under wraps, because it's in my contract — there's no more scooter-riding me. (Gonzalez does air quotes for emphasis:) "No scooter-riding for me!" If you've ever ridden one, it's an exciting ride. You've got to be careful. You can't be a lunatic driving the streets, like a bat out of hell. No one's going to hit you that way.
DB: Is D.C. a good place, with easy driving conditions, for scooters?
GG: Exactly. D.C. is NOT the place to ride a scooter. You want to ride somewhere it's open with a lot of room to move.
DB: Your dad is first-generation American?
GG: My dad was born and raised in Jersey. His parents were Cuban and my mom was born in Cuba. I'm Cuban-American, everybody says. I have a Cuban background, Cuban blood. I was born in Hialeah, Fla. — which is also known as "Cuba." It's a little piece of Cuba that has floated away and stuck to Florida. I try to represent my culture and family and the last name — Gonzalez. It matters. It's an honor to represent a Latin culture.
DB: You curious about the island, the old country?
GG: My dad went and visited and he said it's beautiful in the tourist section, but a little rough around the edges. It kind of humbles you, makes you want to appreciate the things in life you have. I still have family down there, and my mom does — cousins and stuff — other than that, you appreciate life visiting places like that.
DB: Do you remember the Chevy Geo automobile?
GG: Haha, yeah. Oh, yeah. A Neo-Geo. I remember those.
DB: Did you want one?
GG: Absolutely not! I remember when I started off, my first car was a Kia Specrta. With a spoiler kit and some rims.
DB: How big?
GG: Like 18 inches. We painted it red. We went all out. That's the time "The Fast and the Furious" was coming out. It was definitely not fast and definitely not furious. It was more like a shopping cart. It's all for show. I'm definitely not a "Fast and a Furious" guy. I'm more like "Diamond to the back, sling to the right. Good to go."
DB: There's got to be something you can do to make Teddy win a race!
GG: Spike his juice. Tranquilize the other guys. Shoot 'em with a dart. That's the best we can do. I've gotta go stretch!
[Editor's note: Teddy won the last race of the season.]
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Previous Answer Men (and Woman):
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2009 • Shane Victorino • Carlos Pena • Jay Bruce • Joe Nathan • Joe Maddon • Joakim Soria • Joey Votto • Tom Glavine • Adrian and Edgar Gonzalez • Chris Volstad • Paul Konerko • Edwin Jackson • Mark DeRosa • Tim Lincecum • Dave Righetti • Pedro Martinez • Denard Span • Cal Ripken
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2008 • Hunter Pence • Justin Morneau • David Wright • Erin Andrews • Andy Van Slyke • Derek Jeter • Bob Uecker • Bert Blyleven • Torii Hunter • Joba Chamberlain • Larry Bowa • Zack Greinke • Kerry Wood • Huston Street • Josh Hamilton • Milton Bradley • CC Sabathia • Mike Mussina • Jason Bay • Cole Hamels • Ron Santo • Francisco Rodriguez • Ryan Dempster • Evan Longoria
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