SEATTLE -- No matter how triumphant a Mariners win or deflating a loss, Marco Gonzales has long possessed an innate ability to flush away the day’s work when he returns home. Yet his propensity to do so has been even more seamless over the past 12 months, because every night that he returns home now, he does so as a dad.
Gonzales experienced his first Father’s Day on Sunday with his daughter, Grace, who will celebrate her first birthday next week. Beyond the newfound “girl dad strength” that he’s pitched with over the past year, Grace has given Gonzales a newfound appreciation for what he described as a greater meaning in the grand game of life.
“I think the best way that I can put it is like, a part of you and a part of your heart is unlocked that you didn't know that you had,” Gonzales said. “And it's the ultimate, most selfless thing you can do is raising a kid, and so it's been very fulfilling.”
Gonzales is deliberate and diligent with his time away from the game, allocating it almost exclusively for his family. During the season, when he’s at home and especially when Grace is awake from nap time, his phone is off and away. Work will come later.
“I've been trying to work on that even before I was married,” Gonzales said. “With [my wife] Monica, I've always said that if I get to the point where I'm taking the game home, taking my outings home, then I'm not doing it the right way. I always want to leave what I do at the field. And I've always believed that baseball is what we do, but it's not who we are. It doesn't define us. And so I don't want it to define my home life. So I've been working on that for a long time.”
Before Grace was born, Monica loved to travel, well beyond where the Mariners ventured. She didn’t want to give that up when they became parents, and she also didn’t want to miss any of Marco’s starts on the road, either. So, even when he’s at ballparks across the country, the girls have typically been along. Sometimes the trips have been as adventurous as a visit to the Central Park Zoo in New York to as relaxing as dinner and a night in at the hotel in Arlington. Baby Grace being there is what makes it special.
“He wants her around all the time, and even if she's going to be up all night, he’d rather have that and have her be there than for us to be at home,” Monica said. “So that's, I think, where he's at mentally when it comes to getting that quality time with her.”
As a starting pitcher who operates on a five-day schedule, Gonzales in so many ways is routine-oriented, sometimes down to the minute. And with a career in baseball, where the stakes and expectations are incredibly high and the hours spill over each other, the demands so often create a taxing work-life imbalance. The lefty knows it first-hand, as the son of eight-year Minor League journeyman Frank Gonzales.
Frank is now the pitching coach for the Rockies’ Triple-A Albuquerque affiliate, keeping him on the road about as often as his playing career. Once the season starts, for both father and son, they often go months without seeing each other in person. But they still speak regularly, and those conversations have revolved so much more about fatherhood.
“Just trust the fact that being in family and being around the game was what you did, was part of how we lived,” Frank said. “And it's a short time in your life. It really is when you think about it -- 10 to 15 years is pretty dang long for a baseball guy. It's hard to believe he's been in really for about 10 years and raising a child, it probably never stops.”
Gonzales credits Baby Grace for unlocking a newfound love. But her birth last summer in so many ways helped Gonzales get back on track after a tough two-month stretch to start the season, having missed five weeks with a left forearm strain and not pitching to the high-caliber level he was accustomed to before and after. He and Monica had also gone through heartbreak away from the field after her mother unexpectedly passed that spring.
Baby Grace -- full of sass, adventure, curiosity and confidence -- brought them to a much better place after an incredibly trying time.
“It was just really challenging for us mourning her loss, and adjusting to life without her and also preparing to be parents,” Monica said. “And then also with the demands of the season, we just were going through a really hard time. And then as soon as Grace was born, it was like our world just lit up.”
So much has changed in a year, and Gonzales is eager to celebrate the first of many Father's Days.
“Just getting to know my daughter and her needs and what she likes,” Gonzales said, “because she is getting her little preferences. She does have her own little personality, her sass. And so, I think just being able to understand what she needs and what she likes, and then trying to be there for my wife as best I can too.”