As part of the season-long Béisbol Experience rollout, we will be releasing an interview every day from June 15 to 25. Find all of them at espn.com/beisbolexperience.
At 15, Carlos González left his family in Venezuela to pursue his dream of playing in the big leagues. Now a three-time All-Star, the Rockies outfielder reflects on those early days in the minors, from missing family to dating across the language barrier.
How did baseball influence your decision to come to the United States?
I had the opportunity to come to the United States when I was 15. I played in a little league tournament. There were a bunch of scouts and agents in the stands. The person who signed me was Miguel Nava, who at the time worked for the Diamondbacks.
When did you feel like you ‘made it’?
I was telling everybody that as soon as I had the chance to play in the minor leagues. I knew because I came from nothing. I was a poor kid who was fortunate enough that my mom and dad raised me the right way. I thought it was perfect that I had the chance to go to Missoula, Montana, which was a beautiful place, but no one speaks Spanish over there.
How long before you could communicate in English with your teammates and coaches?
A month. When I was in school in Venezuela, we were forced to take English, just as here, you guys take Spanish, so I knew the basics of the language, and it didn’t take me long.
How did you get your first apartment?
In rookie ball we had a three-bedroom house, and it was one American and seven Latino players. It was $50 apiece for the rent.
Do you remember your first experience ordering at a restaurant?
I used to go to the same place, Denny’s. I liked going there because they had menus with pictures. I would point out at what I wanted to eat. That was my spot, since they had breakfast, lunch … whatever you want.
How long before you started dating?
[In Montana] I had an American girlfriend. We were together for a couple of years. She really helped me with the language. I used to have a roommate who was Puerto Rican but born in the U.S., and he spoke both languages. I would ask him, ‘What would I say to her?’ He would tell me in English, and I would say it over the phone.
How much of your social circle is composed of American players or Latino players?
I hang out with everybody. Actually, there are times in which the Latino guys get a little jealous. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re American now and you don’t spend time with me?’ That doesn’t matter; I’m fine with everybody. I’m 31 years old; I came here when I was 15, so I have spent more than half of my life in the United States.
When was the last time you saw your family back in Venezuela?
When I was in the minors, I had the opportunity to see them only when the season was over. I remember the first time my mom had the opportunity to come over here. It was in 2006, when I was invited to the Futures Game in Pittsburgh. That was a great experience, since my mom knows I follow Roberto Clemente’s life. I had the chance to play for the first time in a big league field at PNC Park. She took a picture at the ballpark next to the Clemente statue, and she has it at home.
When you have to be separated from them for a long time, is it hard for you?
It’s the hardest thing to do. Not a lot of kids can do it. I know a lot of guys from Venezuela who missed their families so much that they couldn’t play well, so they got released. But this is what I love to do; I knew from the beginning that if I wanted to be a big league player, I needed to make the sacrifice to leave my family behind.
How often do you talk to them?
Almost every day. Whenever I don’t call my mom for a couple of days, she gets mad at me. She loves baseball, so we talk baseball a lot.
How does ‘the code’ affect the way you play baseball?
That’s part of our culture. You enjoy the game, you celebrate when you do something well, and you keep your head up when things don’t go the way you expect. It’s different when you come to the United States; there are some rules. I understood that right way. Maybe for guys from Cuba and the Dominican Republic there’s a larger difference because they put a little more flair into the way they play, and they come to the United States and people don’t really like that. You see a lot of issues with guys like [Yoenis] Céspedes or [Yasiel] Puig when they’re celebrating. However, that’s the only way they know, and I get it. Everyone comes from different situations, so you have to be open-minded. You’ve got to understand why they do that kind of stuff. You can’t just judge people because of the way they play.
Do you follow American politics at all?
Not much. I’m too busy playing baseball; I don’t have the chance to follow a lot of things that happen in the world. What people don’t realize is all the sacrifices we have to make. We have to spend a lot of time away from our families. We don’t spend a lot of time watching TV. We can’t be with our loved ones on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day — we have a game to play.
What about in your country, Venezuela? Do you follow developments there?
It’s bad down there. My family still lives there. But the only way to help our families is to do what we do. I try to stay locked in and put my mind on the stuff I know how to do, because at the end of the day, what brings food to our table is this game.