So why has it now all come together for Gonzalez? "I just think the older you get, the more you realize what you can and cannot do at the plate," he says. "This is a game of confidence, and when you get enough confidence, you feel like the pitchers can't get you out, no matter what they throw."
When the Diamondbacks were talking trade with Detroit after last season, they were hoping to pry outfielder Bobby Higginson from the Tigers. Arizona settled for the journeyman Gonzalez after Detroit kicked in $500,000 in the deal for 23-year-old Karim Garcia, who's now the Tigers' fourth outfielder. "We were hoping for maybe .270 to .280, 15 homers and 70 RBIs," says Arizona's managing partner Jerry Colangelo. "Needless to say, we're pretty happy with the way things have worked out so far."
Says Showalter, "Luis doesn't strike out. He puts the ball in play. He hits down and through the ball, and he's not susceptible to one pattern of pitching. One thing [ Astros' general manager] Gerry Hunsicker told me after we made the deal was, if Luis gets a streak going"—like the 23-gamer he had with the Astros in 1997—"watch out. He can be fun to watch."
Gonzalez got this year's streak going in the sixth game of the season with a homer off Atlanta Braves righthander Greg Maddux. The streak ended as the longest in the National League since the Chicago Cubs' Jerome Walton hit in 30 games in a row in 1989. Even as Gonzalez attracted national attention for the first time in his career, the weight of the streak never stripped the smile off his face. "He's real laid-back, real low-key," Williams says. "I don't think he worried about the streak one way or the other."
Naturally, Gonzalez had his share of lucky breaks and strange twists while he had the hot bat. Against the Montreal Expos on May 11 he was robbed in the sixth inning by centerfielder Rondell White, and he was still hitless through nine innings. But with the score 3-3, the game went into extra innings, and Gonzalez came to the plate with two outs and no one on in the bottom of the 10th. He launched a towering fly ball into the pool area of the BOB beyond the right-centerfield fence. Game over. Streak alive, at 24 games. "That's when I first started thinking something special was happening," says Gonzalez.
Something truly special happened to Luis and his wife, Christine, last June, and as a result he has been on another amazing run: 11 months without a decent night's sleep at home. While Luis has been putting up some impressive numbers at the plate. Alyssa, Megan and Jacob have been piling up stats too: five cases of formula and three 84-packs of diapers every week. "Changing diapers is like working on an assembly line," says Gonzalez. "Once you get the third baby done, the first one is ready to be changed again."
When the Diamondbacks are home, Gonzalez says he usually gets up at 6 a.m. and spends an hour with the babies before Christine takes over. She orders him back to bed, and Luis attempts to get a couple of hours of sleep before turning his attention back to baseball. While it may seem draining, Gonzalez insists his frenetic family life has brought a sense of serenity to his career. "I have learned to relax since my kids were born," he says. "I used to stress out after a bad day. I'd go home and try to figure out what I had done wrong that day. Now I just let it roll off me and go home and look at my kids. How can I get upset about anything?"
Gonzalez says he learned to appreciate life long before his babies were born and even before he earned his first major league paycheck. His mother, Ame Silverstein, left Cuba with her family when she was eight, in 1956, moving to Tampa, where her parents found work at a cigar factory. (Ame and Luis's father, Emilio, were divorced when Luis was in high school, and Ame later married Kenneth Silverstein.) If the Diamondbacks ever travel to Cuba for an exhibition game, as the Baltimore Orioles did earlier this season, Gonzalez says someone else will have to play leftfield for Arizona. "I would decline to go out of respect for my family," he says. "I watched that Orioles game. It bothered me a lot. It was completely controlled by Castro."
Ame learned English upon her arrival in the U.S. and later earned a degree in education at South Florida. For 30 years she has taught elementary school in Tampa and taught her son to respect other people, even the ones who can be of no benefit to him. "I know this life isn't going to last forever," Gonzalez says. "When I'm done, I want to be remembered as a guy who played hard, treated people right and appreciated every day I spent in the big leagues."
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