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“I represent Hialeah,” Gonzalez says. “I put Hialeah on the map everywhere I go.”

Someday, he says, he’ll have a street and a field named after him, just like the one named for former Marlin Alex Fernandez on West 66th Street in Hialeah. The one Gonzalez grew up playing on. “One day,” he has told Fernandez, “I want to be that guy.”

While Gonzalez is talking, his cellphone rings and the sound of at least a dozen teenage boys having their day made comes blaring through. The call is from the Hialeah High School baseball team, which Gonzalez works out with in the offseason and helps sponsor. They just received the delivery of new cleats Gonzalez sent.

A few weeks later, under the bleachers at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, Fla., after Gonzalez’s second spring start ended in a downpour, he works a crowd of more than 25 family, friends and many of those high schoolers. As Gio makes the rounds, Hialeah assistant coach Jon Hernandez watches, shakes his head and smiles at his old friend.

“I’ve known him since we were in diapers, pretty much,” Hernandez says. “Let me tell you, [Max and Yoly] were my parents growing up, coming from a broken home. … Family has always come first for Gio. Family first, baseball second.”

But it’s baseball that has given the Gonzalez family the life it lives now. It is baseball that brought Gio from playing backyard ball in a narrow space, “with rocks, broken glass, old TVs, and trash piled up in the middle,” to the pristine fields of the major leagues.

From a life where his parents worked tirelessly to provide for their three sons, to one where Gio can take care of them all.

Building a star

Max Gonzalez used to toil under the boiling Florida sun installing billboards in the Miami area. Gio was in middle school when Max, now 48, fell off one and cracked his ribs. From there, he owned a small scooter store while Yoly worked at various jobs, including one weighing scrap metal, to help the family make ends meet. All the while, Gio was training and working for the day he’d be where he is now.

“He has not lost sight of [those sacrifices] one step of the way,” said Dallas Braden, Gonzalez’s mentor and former teammate with the Oakland Athletics. “Now, because he can, he’s showing them, emotionally and monetarily, exactly what you mean to me.

“He’s taking them all for the ride, and he’s taking them first class.”

Gio often is asked about his curveball, the one Max taught his son with hours of repetition on the side of their home. Gio threw so many his forearm would cramp, and that’s when he knew he was breaking it off right. The pitch has movement so unique Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos said he’d never seen anything like it after catching Gonzalez’s first bullpen session of the spring. “The best left-handed breaking ball in the game,” Braden called it.

But the pitcher Gonzalez is today is a far cry from the kid he was a few years ago with Oakland. The one who surrendered a few home runs in one inning in the minor leagues on a windy day and, instead of focusing on the next pitch or the next batter, decided to pick a blade of grass and toss it into the wind “as if to say, ‘You got lucky,’ ” Braden recalled.

“Do I love that attitude? Do I love that, ‘[Forget] you,’ approach? Yes,” Braden said. “I love it. Did it come out at the most inopportune time and look just as bad as it could possibly have looked? Yes it did. And I had to let him know.”

The Gonzalez family is an emotional bunch, and there was a time that every pitch called a ball would elicit a gesticulation as if it just cost Gio the winning run in the World Series. But keeping those emotions in check - on the field and in the clubhouse - was part of Gio’s assigned education from Braden. It didn’t take him long to know when Gonzalez needed to be “slapped in that jacked up hairline of his and told ‘Hey, you are a little out of line right now.’ “

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