WASHINGTON -- Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez is off to the best start of his Major League career. Entering Friday's action against the Yankees, Gonzalez is 8-2 with a 2.35 ERA, and is among the league leaders in strikeouts with 89.
Gonzalez doesn't have to think twice on who gets the credit for his success this season: his father, Max, who taught his son the fundamentals of pitching. In fact, it was Max who taught Gio how to throw his famous curveball and perform his long-toss program.
It was Max who told his son to warm up his arm with a basketball and a softball. Gio said his father is the reason he never had an arm injury.
"Gio never gave me any problems. He always listened," Max said. "He was a great kid. He never gave me any headaches. He was always happy-go lucky."
"My dad has been my coach, my mentor, my go-to guy in any situation," Gio said. "He was my inspiration as a kid and still is to this day. I don't think I survive without him."
It was Max who was able to convince his son to play baseball. While in junior high school, Gio dreamed of becoming a point guard in the NBA, but Max convinced his son that he didn't have the height to play the game of basketball, nor did he dribble like Tim Hardaway.
When Gio turned 14, Max said something to Gio that became the turning point of Gio's life.
"Give him four years of his life and I would teach him the game of baseball," the father said to the son. If Gio listened, Max guaranteed that that his son would succeed on the mound.
"I gave him four years of my life. Just straight training, missing out on big events, parties and stuff like that," Gio said. "On the weekends, while everybody else was out and having fun, I was practicing everyday in the mornings. And I was sitting down at night with my dad talking baseball.
"My dad told me, "Look, every week, you are going to train for the team. Weekends, I'll give it to you, just to hang out, do what you have to do.' But, at the time, during my weekends, I had to work. I had to get a job to get money. Within that time, I was training, training, training. The opportunity came. My dad gave me an opportunity and I said, 'Look, Dad, we are going to do it. I want to try it out. I want to see if it works.'"
It worked all right. While attending Hialeah [Fla.] High School, Gonzalez helped the Thoroughbreds win two state titles. In 2004, the White Sox drafted him in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft.
But despite the fact that Gio's endless training culminated in a first-round selection, he was traded traded three times in four years. Gio found himself in Oakland, where he made the best of his situation and became an All-Star in 2011. After the season, the Athletics traded Gio to the Nationals for four prospects. He would later sign a five-year, $42 million extension -- with options for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
One can bet that Max Gonzalez is a proud father.
"It's every father's dream to see his son play in the big leagues and play in an All-Star Game," Max said. "I knew Gio was going to make it because he was disciplined. You don't have to tell him to do anything. He knows what to do and that's why he is successful. He works really hard during the offseason.
"He believes in me. That's what made him successful."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.