Gonzalez Is Where He Belongs; That's More Important Than Money

Carlos Gonzalez took his spot along the first base line with his Rockies teammates for the player introductions prior to the Rockies home opener on Friday afternoon. The crowd accompanied his trip from the dugout with a loud ovation.

And the reality set in.

As excited as he had been to re-sign with the Rockies in the opening weeks of the spring it wasn’t until Friday that he fully understood what it all meant.

“Being on the line with my teammates, really got me,” he said. “I was like, `Wow, I can’t believe I’m here.' It didn’t hit me until then. It was emotional. It was great.”

He signed with the Diamondbacks as a 16-year-old. He made his big-league debut with the A’s.

He, however, is most at home with the Rockies, where he is now in his 10th season, something that six months ago he never envisioned happening.

In the spring of 2017 he had turned down a three-year $45 million contract extension. During the summer of 2017 he suffered through what was the most disappointing season of his professional career. And in the fall of 2017 he filed for free agency, feeling that the only thing for sure about that move was that his days with the Rockies were over.

“I thought I was out of here for sure,” said Gonzalez.

The world of free agency, however, took a strange turn this past off-season. Teams did not jump at the idea of throwing millions of dollars and multi-year contracts around like in the past.  And so as 2017 turned into 2018, Gonzalez was unsigned and hadn’t even received a concrete offer.

He was under the impression that the Diamondbacks, Orioles, Blue Jays and Astros had interest.

“I was picturing myself with the world champs,” he said of the Astros. “After they said (Carlos) Beltran was not going to be back there, that he was retiring, I was thinking they need an outfielder/DH guy,” said Gonzalez. “So I thought I might get to play with (Jose) Altuve. Altuve was like, `Yeah, yeah, come here.’

“I trained with him some in the winter and he’s like, `Yeah, come here! He would stay at my house and would say, `You should play with me.’ I thought it might be happening, but it never got close.”

Nothing got close. The calendar turned from 2017 to 2018 and Gonzalez was waiting for a team to make an offer, and he began to think maybe he could return to the Rockies.

“I always stayed in touch with Jeff (Bridich, the general manager) and my teammates, the coaching staff, the manager,” said Gonzalez. “The manager texted me at like, one in the morning on New Years. He was like, `Man, let's make this happen, I really want you to play for me.' I texted him, `I don't know what's going to happen, I would love to play for you but I don't know if it's going to happen.’”

And then, after camps had opened, Bridich reached out.

A deal got done, for $5 million with $3 million of incentives based on days on the active roster. It was a far cry from what had been speculated in the fall. Gonzalez, however, didn’t care.

“There are going to be plenty of people saying, `Hey, man, you should have taken that deal (last spring),” said Gonzalez, “but I never regret any of my decisions. When I was 16 years old, I had an offer for almost a million dollars to pitch, and I ended up taking two hundred thousand to be an outfielder with Arizona. Everybody said, `Whoa, you're crazy, you left a lot of money because you wanted to hit?’ I said, `It's not about the money, it's about what makes you happy.' Maybe a lot of guys make decisions based on money, and then they ended up regretting it.

“At the time you think, `Is that really what I'm worth?’ But after it’s over, you know it's not about the money. It's about playing the game that you love. I never thought about how much I was making, even when I was under contract. It's baseball, you know? When the game starts, when the season starts, when spring training starts, it's not about who's getting paid the most, it's about performing every day, trying to get better every day. It is about helping your teammates out, trying to be the best person you can, on and off the field.”

The actions back up the words. What stood out about Gonzalez a year ago was that with free agency pending and Gonzalez battling through a season gone bad, he never withdrew. There was always a smile. There was always a helping hand for his teammates.

He lives in a world where the focus is on the future, not the past.

“I want to be strong,” he said. “I want to be healthy. I want to play games. I want to have a good, long career. As long as I take care of that, money is going to come. I want to play for at least five, six more years, whatever God has for me.”

He paused.

“I'm not doing it for money,” he said. “I'm doing it because I love the game.”

Tracy RingolsbyComment