The baseball off-season for Yovani Gallardo wasn’t much different than any other in his career, even after his career was bumped onto a new course last month.
He came home to Fort Worth after the 2014 season and spent the majority of his time catching up with family, immediate and extended, before preparations for the 2015 season became more of a priority.
“Every time we can we try to get together and have a cookout, basically,” Gallardo said of family gatherings that can top 30 attendees. “Just relax and have some fun. That’s the way my family has always been. Everybody’s so close. It’s just the way I grew up.”
He was all set to return to Arizona for spring training, leasing the same place in Scottsdale, and set to get back to the grind with the Milwaukee Brewers. Then, he would head north and not be home again for good until October at the earliest.
But his phone rang Jan. 19, and life-changing news was on the other end. He would get to stay home this season.
Former Rangers general manager Doug Melvin, now running the Brewers, had called to confirm the rumors that Gallardo and his family had been hearing for 24 hours: the right-hander had been traded to the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers were the team Gallardo grew up watching from Fort Worth’s north side and the team all in his family had hoped would draft him from Trimble Tech High School in 2004.
The Rangers uniform is one Gallardo has always wanted to wear. He will put it on Saturday for the team’s first spring workout for pitchers and catchers, who report for camp Friday.
But it won’t be until after April 10, when the Rangers open their home schedule, that Gallardo will truly feel home.
He’ll have family and friends in attendance each time he pitches at Globe Life Park, and then will drive to his home on Eagle Mountain Lake. He will get to check in on his three kids as they sleep, kiss his wife goodnight and sleep in his own bed.
Family, Fort Worth and baseball: Three things that have always been one for Gallardo.
“I see myself always living here in Fort Worth,” he said. “I love it here. I’ve had a lot of memories growing up here and living here. It’s home for me and my family, my kids, my wife and everyone else.”
Gallardo, who turns 29 on Feb. 27, was born in Penjamillo de Degollado in the Mexican state of Michoacan, about two hours east of Guadalajara. His father, Jorge, decided in the late 1980s that a better life for his wife, Eulalia, and Yovani was in Texas, where a couple of older brothers worked as welders.
Jorge left his then-small family in Mexico for a few years before Yovani came to Fort Worth in 1990 at age 4.
“He came here for work to have a better living and a better life,” Gallardo said. “It’s a lot bigger city than where I’m from. Even my mom was a little hesitant to go anywhere. It took some time to get used to it.”
The family’s release from a week of hard work came in the city’s adult baseball leagues, and that’s where Gallardo’s first memories of the sport were hatched. His dad, uncles and older cousins would play, and he and the rest of the younger cousins would spend all day at the fields at Rockwood Park.
There was always a ball to chase down. Someone was always looking to play catch.
“I think that’s what got me into baseball, just watching him and my family members and how they went about it,” Gallardo said. “The team that he played with basically was all my uncles and cousins. It was family. It was baseball, baseball, baseball.”
Gallardo found a team of his own when he was 10 as a father in the area, Mike Resendez, put a club together. Right from the start, by the way the ball pounded his palm inside a catcher’s mitt, Resendez knew that Gallardo was ahead of the rest of the boys.
Gallardo and Resendez’s son, Adam, became fast friends. Gallardo was already hanging around with Julian Martinez, who had known Gallardo since he arrived from Mexico. Though each eventually went to different high schools, they continued to play together on travel squads.
“It was the three Mexicans always rooming together,” Martinez said. “We always talked about the opportunity to go play ball, and he was the one who got chosen. We supported him.”
Nearly 20 years later, Resendez and Martinez still rate as Gallardo’s closest friends. They have seen Gallardo evolve from a quiet boy to a less-quiet adult, but he hasn’t changed who he is despite enjoying the perks of being a successful big-league pitcher.
Sure, his house is nice and he’s going to make $14 million this season, but he doesn’t rub it in anyone’s face.
“It’s a big change from where he came from,” said Resendez, who lives in Saginaw. “I think he handles himself really well now. He’s never been one to brag. He’s very humble. He’s never flashing around money. By looking at him, you wouldn’t even know.”
Instead, Gallardo gives back to the community and wants to do more.
He quietly offers aid to Sabine Jarvis Little League, one of his boyhood baseball homes and where son Yovani Jr. plays. Gallardo had no qualms being the star attraction for a fundraiser last weekend in Saginaw at Dynasty Baseball Academy, which Martinez founded and serves as its president.
Gallardo threw a bullpen session for the public, and then signed hundreds of autographs for more than 90 minutes. He knows he’s a role model, especially now that he’s the Fort Worth kid who has come home to the Rangers, and he likes the responsibility.
“There are a lot of people who really didn’t know about him until he came to the Rangers,” said Martinez, who served as Gallardo’s catcher this winter. “I think he’s going to do a lot for the Hispanic community.”
Despite his quiet and humble nature, Gallardo’s pitching prowess in select leagues and high school was loud enough to morph into The Legend of Yovani Gallardo. It went something like this:
After Gallardo would go out and mow down kids for Trimble Tech or for his travel squad, the Texas Blackhawks, Gallardo would rush to join his family members in a Fort Worth adult league and mow down adults, too.
Dominate kids his own age, then dominate grown men twice his age. Not bad for a day’s work, right?
“No, that’s not true,” Gallardo said. “That’s one of the things my dad and my family were really careful with. If I pitched a game on the travel team I played with, I would come over and play in the field. I never pitched seven innings and then went over there and pitched another nine innings.”
But where there’s talent, there’s legend — like the sting Mike Resendez felt while catching the future National League All-Star as a 10-year-old. When Gallardo did pitch on his dad’s adult-league team, he made most of the adults look silly.
Nothing, though, tops the 11-inning masterpiece Gallardo threw his senior year at Trimble Tech against North Side, striking out 25 batters in a 2-1 victory and getting the best of Martinez.
“I wanted to beat him,” said Martinez, who held his own with 17 strikeouts. “He came out on top. We didn’t pitch badly at all. It was 0-0 going into the ninth inning.”
Said Gallardo: “To this day, we talk about that game. You look back at it now, and who’s going to pitch 11 innings in a high school game?”
By then, Gallardo had already committed to TCU, but his draft stock was soaring. He was the Brewers’ second-round pick, 46th overall, in the 2004 draft, after the Rangers had selected right-handers Thomas Diamond and Eric Hurley with the 10th and 30th overall picks in the first round.
Gallardo was only 21 when he made his big-league debut June 18, 2007, and only 22 when he blew out his right knee May 1, 2008, after colliding with Chicago Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson, who had tried to bunt for a hit.
Gallardo stayed in the game and registered five more outs.
“Then it started to get pretty stiff,” he said.
But he wasn’t done in 2008. He returned from surgery in September to log a late-season start, and with deadline acquisition CC Sabathia unavailable, opened Game 1 of the National League Division Series as the Brewers’ starting pitcher in their first postseason game since the 1982 World Series.
“It just showed that he loves to compete,” said Mike Maddux, who was the Brewers’ pitching coach from 2003-2008 before joining the Rangers in 2009. “Our opinion of what he meant to the team and his talent level, we had that much trust in him.”
The Rangers sent three prospects to Milwaukee for Gallardo, who is expected to slot behind Yu Darvish and Derek Holland in the rotation. If all goes as it has the past six seasons, Gallardo will make 30 to 33 starts and log north of 190 innings.
Those kind of pitchers, especially one who has made five starts on Opening Day and has pitched in two postseasons, aren’t easy to find.
“He’s a great addition to our ballclub because he’s been there, done that, but he’s not done yet,” Maddux said. “He has experience. That’s something you can’t teach. He’s going to be a leader. Guys are going to look up to him. He’s really not flappable.”
While Gallardo is seen as an addition that could make the Rangers a contender, he knows he might be with the club only one season. Free agency looms after the season, and the just-traded Gallardo understands that baseball is a business. He also really likes to hit.
The Rangers, though, could have need for a veteran rotation piece depending on the health of Matt Harrison and how much Colby Lewis has left in the tank. Gallardo, of course, likes the idea of sticking around, and so does his family.
“I achieved the one thing my mom wanted me to achieve, and that was to play for the Rangers,” said Gallardo, whose mother died in 2012. “I have uncles telling me they still can’t believe it. You can’t believe it? Well, I can’t believe it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.
“All I can do is go out there and perform. Growing up, one of the goals I had was to play here, and not just play here but play here for a long time. I’m going to do everything I have to do to hopefully achieve that.”
Said Jorge Gallardo: “I want the Rangers to give him a contract.”
Gallardo will have the challenge of pitching in the American League, where ERAs typically run a half-run higher than in the NL. He has adjusted how he pitches, trying to get batters to put the ball in play early in counts rather than trying to strike everyone out.
Martinez has seen more determination and better stuff than in past winters. But it’s not because Gallardo is chasing a contract, Martinez theorized, but because he wants to be at his best when his family watches him pitch.
“It’s only going to motivate me more,” Gallardo said. “You always want to pitch well in front of your family and friends.”
Gallardo, though, understands that he has a season to orchestrate before he can start naming his price. It’ll be a different season, living at home and having his own cheering section each time he takes the mound at Globe Life Park.
He also understands why everyone he knows in Fort Worth is excited. He is, too, even though he has almost two more months before he truly gets to realize that he’s home.
Family, Fort Worth and baseball: Three things that have always been one for Gallardo.
“I don’t think it’ll hit me until the first game in the Ballpark,” Gallardo said. “I think that’s where I’m going to realize where I’m at and what I’ve accomplished.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
Yovani Gallardo file
Birth date: Feb. 27, 1986, Penjamillo, Michoacan, Mexico
High school: Star-Telegram’s player of the year in 2004 after posting 1.12 ERA, with 117 strikeouts in 50 innings his senior season at Trimble Tech. Committed to TCU but signed with Milwaukee after being taken in the second round of the draft.
Family: Wife, Patricia, and three children.
Pro career pitching stats: 89-64 in eight seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, 3.69 ERA, 1,226 strikeouts