Like everyone else, Marco Gonzales is anxious for baseball to start. And maybe it’s taken a little more time than anyone expected, but he’ll be on the hill on Friday for the Seattle Mariners when the MLB season gets underway – finally.
Whether the season reaches the expanded playoffs this season – announced mere hours before the first pitch between the World Champion Washington Nationals and the New York Yankees on Thursday – is something left to be contemplated for a later day.
Gonzales is just happy to be taking the mound again in games that count, and he’ll go as long as he can considering the short “summer camp” the team recently completed to get prepared for the season.
“First and foremost, it’s a huge honor,” Gonzales said during his media availability via Zoom on Tuesday. “One that I do not take lightly, given the responsibility to kind of set the tone for the squad and for this season.
“You know, whether it be short, whether it be weird, I know one thing’s for sure. I’m gonna go out and compete the best of my ability and do the best to set the right example for our guys and go win some ballgames. So I’m incredibly thrilled and honored and I just can’t couldn’t be more excited.”
Gonzales is fired up about the rest of his mates in the starting rotation.
“I don’t think we could have put together a better group for this season,” he said. “I think everybody is competitive and got their own swagger and doing it their own way, and the energy that this group brings is different.
“It’s motivating, it’s inspiring and, I think, energy and attitude is really the best words I can find to describe this crew. We’ve learned a lot together so far. We’ve grown a lot, and I can’t wait to see what the rest these guys do. I’m just excited to get out of their way and let them roll.”
A key cog in the rotation, Taijuan Walker, returns to the Mariners after three years in Arizona and battles with an elbow injury. He made three starts last season before suffering a partial ligament tear in his elbow and undergoing surgery.
Gonzales knows what Walker has gone through, suffering the same injury in 2016 while a member of the St. Louis Cardinals organization.
“When you go through something like that, that removes you from this game, you’re given that new perspective,” Gonzales said. “It’s a bonding experience, for sure. We’ve all been through kind of a different process with it and different times of our careers, but overall I think it’s given us a new sense of motivation and appreciation for the things that we can do and being on the field.
“I remember that time of my career when I was itching to get back and what that first start in the big leagues, you know after surgery, meant to me so I can’t wait to celebrate with them and celebrate for them, because of their journey that they’ve been through.”
Three weeks isn’t much time to get ready to play big league baseball, but Gonzales thinks with everyone in the same boat, at least the playing field is fair.
“I think the ramp-up in this camp has been short, but we knew that going in,” he said. “We knew what this would be like. We knew the timetable, so I was trying to do the best I could to stay ready and stay in shape, bringing a little bit of intensity in the downtime and just trying to continue that momentum into camp and hit the ground running without any hiccups.
“I think our guys have done a really good job of preparing and bringing intensity and competitiveness into these intersquad games, because it’s difficult with no one here and facing your own guys, but I think they’ve done a really nice job of rising to that challenge.”
He said he isn’t missing out on the big picture, though, with so many people battling serious issues throughout the country.
“This opportunity is always a blessing,” he said. “Going through some injuries in my career, I think I’ll never take that for granted again, that ability to step on a field and throw a baseball and have fun and just run around and be with your friends and your teammates. So first and foremost this opportunity is a blessing.
“And secondly – it’s big league baseball. We have to strap it on, and give it our best 60. We can look at this as though we’re tied with 60 games left to play. So what are we going to bring to the table, what are we going to do with that? We got a lot of guys who are hungry and champing at the bit, so I can’t wait to just release them and see what we got.”
Gonzales isn’t concerned that the M’s open with the defending A.L. champion Houston Astros, and the baggage they might be carrying with them surrounding the sign-stealing scandal that came to light during the offseason.
“I’m not gonna put any more pressure on myself than I need to,” he said. “I’m gonna go out and try to win a ballgame. You know, I think facing a good lineup, in a spot where the World Series was played last year, that’s enough pressure as it is, so I’m going to go out and just compete, try to win a ballgame and that’s all the pressure I need to put on myself.”
Gonzales noticed last month when two more Gonzaga pitchers, Mac Lardner and Nick Trogrlic-Iverson, signed contracts with major league clubs. He takes pride in being part of the pipeline from the Zags to the pros.
“I can only take a small bit of credit for that, you know,” he said. “Just being able to play with a few of those guys who have come through. I’ve seen Taylor Jones from the Astros doing really well. Brandon Bailey is out there throwing well.
“You know the credit goes to that program and that school. They’ve really invested a lot into their student-athletes since I’ve been there, and even before then. So it’s an extraordinary program. I could go on all day, but it’s an honor to rep the Zags as always.”
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