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Garza gained discipline from military dad

CHICAGO -- Matt Garza is a tough competitor who is determined to do whatever it takes to win. The Cubs pitcher gets that fighting spirit from his dad, Rudy, a sergeant major in the U.S. Army.

Rudy Garza, 58, has spent nearly 30 years in the Army, been deployed twice to Afghanistan and has left a mark on his oldest son.

"He had the discipline and determination," Matt said of his father. "We always had to do something, and we had to get it done right. And if we didn't do it right, we had to do it over. It wasn't always fun doing that, but he taught us dedication and determination and wanting to do something. It's pretty cool."

When Garza isn't pitching, he's usually front and center in the Cubs' dugout, cheering on his teammates. During pregame ceremonies in May linked to the NATO Summit in Chicago, Garza didn't hide his support of the military men and women who were on Wrigley Field. He cheered and applauded them along with the fans.

"My dad's been overseas, deployed twice and been involved in the war on terrorism," Garza said. "He missed 'Desert Storm' because of an injury, and he hated that, hated missing it. Just to know he went over there twice and did his part and came back is very cool. My hat's off to all the soldiers who do their thing for us. It's the reason I get to stand here and do what I do. Every day we should show thanks."

Rudy didn't push his two sons to follow him in the military. Matt and his younger brother, Michael, went a different direction.

"He said, 'If you want to [serve in the military], it's fine. You guys need to do something else,'" Matt said. "We were into sports. He said, 'One of us served.' If I had to [serve in the military], I'd do it. I'd enjoy it and I'd be proud to do it. For him to do it for this long, it's just, thanks."

The first time Rudy was deployed to Afghanistan, Matt was a sophomore at Fresno State University. The second time, Matt was in the big leagues.

"The first time was pretty hard on both me and my brother, mainly my little brother," Matt said of Michael, now a high school baseball coach in Fresno, Calif. "The second time, it was just harder on the kids."

Fighting definitely affected their father physically.

"The first time he went, he came back and he had lost 35 pounds -- he was just skinny," Matt said. "The second time, he stayed in good shape and maintained his weight. He said, 'The second time is easier. The first time was tough.' The scariest thing was when he dealt with a Christmas Eve bombing. He said, 'We just stayed in our bunkers and bunkered down.'"

Wasn't it tough not having his dad around at the holidays?

"We knew what he was doing," Matt said. "We were always prepared for the worst. That's all you can do. You hope for him to come back, you know he's coming back, and you prepare for the worst. That's how we've always looked at it. If something is going to happen, it's supposed to happen.

"He came back safe, and others haven't and others won't," Matt said. "We should always be thankful for what they've done."

Now the father of a 9-year-old boy and two girls, Garza, 28, is trying to pass on some of the traits his father passed on to him.

"Determination and perseverance, and not letting anyone stand in your way to get what you want -- that's what my kids are learning," Matt said. "If they want something, they're going to get it, and not by us, but they'll find a way to get something done. My dad always taught us, 'You've got to find a way. There's always a way, and you've just got to find it.' That's what we're passing to our kids, there's a way to figure things out and you have to figure it out. We can't always tell you, we'll help you. To pass on the determination that he passed on to us is key for us."

They aren't using that determination just to get material things. It's more than that.

"It's the way [my father] showed us how to do things and kept us focused on our jobs," Matt said. "That's what we want to teach our kids is you've got a job ahead, stay focused on it, and it's going to happen. Just persevere and it's going to come, keep fighting for it."

Garza is a huge supporter of the military. He has met two four-star generals, most recently Gen. John Allen, Commander, International Security Assistance Force, and Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, during the Cubs' ceremonies.

"[Allen] gave me his general coins, and I gave them to my dad," Garza said. "They have their name and rank on them. It's pretty cool."

Some kids collect baseball cards.

"These guys are the head of our military," Garza said. "You can tell, in meeting both of them, why they're at where they're at. It's all direction, all the time. It's pretty intense, even just shaking hands with those guys. You can only imagine being in their war room."

Rudy Garza, 58, wants to stay active at least two more years. Matt's children show their support for their grandfather when he takes part in parades back home in Fresno.

"They know what Papa Rudy does and they appreciate it," Matt said.

So does his son. So does the country. Happy Father's Day, Rudy.

Matt Garza