Gonzalez bridges gap between two cultures
Bilingual pitcher helps ease transition to big leagues for Latin teammates
Miguel Gonzalez has always spoken two languages, and considers himself fortunate to be part of two cultures. It's a path that has shaped the Orioles pitcher in his unlikely route to the Major Leagues.
Born in Mexico, Gonzalez's parents moved to California when he was three to give him and his siblings a better education. It's a decision he's glad his parents made, as it gave him an opportunity to become a U.S. citizen and have strong ties to his native land.
"To be able to be part of Mexican culture, and the way we do things around the house and everything, I think it's pretty amazing," said Gonzalez, who always spoke Spanish at home and learned English in school. "We try to have fun as much as possible, reunions with family on the weekends. It's big. It's always been like that, and we love it."
While he is reminded of those ties on a daily basis, it's particularly special during this time of year. Hispanic Heritage Month kicked off last Sunday, and baseball is paying tribute to its storied history involving Hispanic players.
The Orioles honored Adam Jones, the team's nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award on Tuesday night. The award, named for the Puerto Rican Hall of Fame player and humanitarian, is for a player who best represents the game of baseball through sportsmanship, community service and contributions to his team. Fans and a selection committee will determine the national winner. Clemente embodied the term humanitarian, and Gonzalez said it's a trait he's found in many of his other countrymen.
"I got really attached with [Luis] Ayala," Gonzalez said of his former teammate, who was traded to the Atlanta Braves earlier this season. "Growing up with big league baseball players, I've never been around much of them. But now I can tell you this, they are very humble and they will try to help you out as much as possible. Even on your bad days, Ayala will call me. We've got a bunch of other guys, even [Manny] Machado. He's always there for me, and I'm always going to be there for them, too."
Part of the reason Gonzalez, who bounced around the Minors after signing as a free agent with the Angels in 2005, signed with Baltimore in '12 was for the opportunity to play with fellow Mexican players Ayala, Dennys Reyes and Oscar Villarreal. The other part, of course, was that the Orioles represented an opportunity. Gonzalez, who didn't even get an invitation to big league Spring Training, took his chance and ran with it, pitching his way up through the ranks and earning a spot in the rotation as a 28-year-old rookie.
Gonzalez went 9-4 with a 3.25 in 18 games (15 starts) in his first season, and was one of baseball's pleasant surprises on an Orioles team full of underdog stories. Gonzalez has been able to carry over that success in 2013, and is 10-8 with a 3.94 ERA in 29 games (27 starts).
In his second year, Gonzalez has taken on more of a veteran role -- particularly in Ayala's absence -- in easing the transition for some of the younger Latin players.
"That's why they liked me everywhere I went," Gonzalez said. "When I was with the Angels, if they needed me to speak something in English for the coaches, I was there. I try to help out as much as possible. That's the way I grew up. "It's fun to be around guys who don't speak a lot of English, who are starting to learn it -- like [Henry] Urrutia. He comes to me to ask, 'Hey what do I say? How do I say it?' So I feel blessed and very proud to be a part of two cultures and speak two languages."
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.