DENVER -- The deep and raspy voice of Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte rings in the ears of Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez after a long offseason of training together. But, when Gonzalez imitates his one-time protégé -- and now confidant -- Inciarte's voice ends up ringing in his own
DENVER -- The deep and raspy voice of Braves center fielder Ender Inciarte rings in the ears of Rockies right fielder Carlos Gonzalez after a long offseason of training together. But, when Gonzalez imitates his one-time protégé -- and now confidant -- Inciarte's voice ends up ringing in his own ears.
"Sometimes he calls me at night and he's like, 'Hey, I've got this friend next to me. Can you please talk the way I talk?'" said Gonzalez, who will meet up with his longtime friend starting with Friday afternoon's Coors Field opener, against the Braves. "He'd start laughing."
This past winter, Gonzalez, 32, found more than a good laugh from the voice of Inciarte, 27. He found support -- at times tough -- through workouts in Orlando, Fla., that helped Gonzalez prepare for a turnaround in 2018, after a down year in 2017. But, no matter how hard they were working, CarGo could make Inciarte smile.
"I don't think anybody can do it as good as him," Inciarte said. "I'm trying to get him back."
They go back to when Gonzalez was a teenage prospect in the D-backs' organization and met a kid in his hometown of Maracaibo, Venezuela.
"He was, like, 10 years old and I was already playing winter ball and in the Minors," Gonzalez said. "His older brother [Astolfo Inciarte] used to play for the Diamondbacks organization, and I remember this little kid coming to the ballpark, trying to copy us, trying to be a baseball player like us. I used to give him outfield gloves."
Gonzalez went on to represent the Rockies in three All-Star Games, earn three Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, win a batting title in 2010 and take home two Silver Slugger Awards.
Through that, Inciarte was doing the imitating. Inciarte broke in with the D-backs in 2014, but blossomed after joining the Braves in 2016. He has won the last two Gold Gloves in center, and last year played in his first All-Star Game.
"I always appreciated the way he was with me," Inciarte said. "Right now, we have a really good relationship. I can still call him my brother."
Gonzalez, who headed into free agency this past offseason, languished at .228 as of last July 30 as he searched for his swing and his confidence. Gonzalez found a groove in August and September to help the Rockies to a National League Wild Card spot. His final average of .262 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs were far below his norm.
After the season, Gonzalez began calling players he respected. For example, veteran Carlos Beltran, who had just earned a World Series ring with the Astros. Beltran assured Gonzalez that any player can have a bad year. But Gonzalez didn't seek knowledge only from graybeards.
Gonzalez knew Inciarte would be around Orlando, and they would be working out together at Tom Shaw Performance at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. To relax, Gonzalez and the Inciartes -- Astolfo and Ender -- would watch soccer games. But during quiet moments, Gonzalez asked Inciarte for help, without a hint of ego.
"He would say, 'Man, you're still my favorite player,' stuff like that," Gonzalez said. "And I'm like, 'Listen, man, I think you've done pretty good over the years.'
"I never pretend to think I'm better than anybody else. I always try to pick people's brains, just trying to see what they're doing, what's their approach, what's their work ethic. He had over 200 hits last year. I admire the way he plays."
The exercises were tough -- running in sandpits to catch thrown fly balls, practicing turning and running with heavy rubber straps around the hips, and the like. Gonzalez fed off Inciarte's hunger.
"The whole offseason we were working together -- him, Martin [Prado] and a few other Venezuelan players," Inciarte said. "We worked hard. A lot of days you're going to feel lazy and maybe tired. Some days I was pushing him to work harder and some days he was pushing me to work harder."
Bert Whigham, a trainer at Tom Shaw Performance, said Gonzalez was insightful in taking Inciarte's lead.
"It's one thing for someone like a family member to say, 'It's going to be OK,' but you've got to get somebody who isn't invested in your life," Whigham said. "Ender is just a friend. He doesn't rely on CarGo to provide for his family. When someone like that cares, it creates an environment where they're going to be more successful because of each other."
And they laughed, because of each other.
"The imitation just kills Ender; it's hilarious," Whigham said. "It didn't matter what he said. He could be 100 percent right, but CarGo could say it just like him and everyone would be dying laughing. But CarGo didn't have an ego about it. He would go and do the work."
Gonzalez imitates with love.
"Obviously, he's faster than me, but he's like, 'Man, I'm beating you by one or two steps,'" Gonzalez said. "I say, 'Man, that's all I need right now. I don't need to beat you. I've just got to stay close. That's all I'm trying to do.'
"We'd laugh. We'd have fun. But he was pushing me the whole time. I have to thank him."
Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook page. Mark Bowman contributed.