A clubhouse regular at a tender age

By Dale Goodwin

Frank Gonzales dumped a bucket of balls at one end of the backyard and took his pail to the other. He turned it over, sat on it and held up his glove.

At the other end, his son Marco stood on a two-by-four, picked up a ball and wound up.

He hit his dad’s glove time after time, no matter where Frank positioned it. The penalty for missing dad’s glove was chasing the ball. Marco, age 6 or 7, wanted no part of that. Father and son repeated the drill day after day, often into twilight – early in the spring, well after summer, and during the winter months in a nearby warehouse in Fort Collins, Colo.

Playing in the Majors is a dream of every kid. Marco is no exception, and neither was his dad. Marco had lived in five countries by age 6. He tells of going to Japan with his family and picking up enough of the language that, at age 5, he could direct the cab driver to the ballpark. Back in the states, Marco and his mom, Gina, regularly traveled to support his dad. Frank spent 10 years playing internationally and pitching in the minor leagues, including five years with the Triple A Toledo Mud Hens, but never got the call.

“My last year I was playing for Somerset, an independent team. I knew by then I wasn’t going to make the Majors,” Frank said. “Gina would send me video tapes of Marco pitching and playing shortstop. He was 6 years old. I was pitching OK, but seeing him play made me decide to pack my bags and come home.”

Father and son’s backyard devotion paid off. Marco, a Gonzaga junior in 2012-13, built an All-American resume. His selection as the 19th player picked in the 2013 Major League Baseball draft by the St. Louis Cardinals is the highest ever for GU.

Marco’s success hasn’t changed him on the inside. “Walk into the clubhouse after Marco’s pitched a shutout or received another award, and you would never know it by watching him,” said Coach Mark Machtolf. “He’s the same genuine guy every day. He never shows it off. He’s always encouraging his teammates, and a great leader by example in the clubhouse and on the field.”

“That all started with my parents,” Marco said. “My dad (a teacher and coach) has always been about helping others become better educated. My mom (a firefighter) always wanted to be the first one to a fire to help those who needed her most. Neither one ever wanted attention.”

Marco has learned on his own, too. Last summer, he played in Cuba with the U.S. team. “One day we drove to the ballpark and these little boys were playing baseball with sticks and rocks in the street. Every one of them wore a smile. I’ve never been more grateful to put on the uniform.”

Sticks. Rocks. Snow. Marco loves the game no matter what. While being recruited by Gonzaga, Marco, his parents and brother, Alex, now 15 and a promising shortstop, drove to Spokane over winter break. They intended to continue south and visit Pepperdine, UCLA, Santa Barbara and other universities.

“I’d never seen so much snow on a baseball field,” Frank said. They had arrived during one of Spokane’s harshest winters. Marco said, “We took a tour of campus, talked to the coaches, then I sat down with my family and talked about my decision. I fell in love with the school and the city, and I loved the coaching staff.”

“I thought he was absolutely out of his mind to come play for a school with three feet of snow on its field,” added Frank, who now coaches pitchers for the Tri-Cities (Wash.) Dust Devils in the Northwest A League. Marco said, “But what did you think about the coaches and the school?”

Frank liked the school but worried whether Marco was getting in over his head academically. (Eventually, Marco alleviated that fear, by earning Academic All American honors.) Frank liked the coaches a lot, straight-shooting, genuine guys who knew how to teach the game. After a two-hour conversation, Marco had made up his mind.

A couple days later they met with the coaches before leaving Spokane. They talked more baseball, more about a Gonzaga education, and Marco had a last word.

“My family and I have made a decision.” With that, Marco, Frank, Gina and Alex ripped open their jackets and everyone was wearing Zag apparel. Marco’s T-shirt read “I’m a Bulldog.” And they never made it to another school.

 

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