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Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez clearly takes after Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr.

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In the final installment of a special Purple Row series, CarGo talked about eventually becoming friends with his childhood idol.

Colorado Rockies v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Every sports fan has a favorite player he/she enjoyed watching growing up. Colorado Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez is no different, only his favorite player helped shape the athlete he is today—a fact that is clearly evident when watching him swing the bat.

As a kid, the Maracaibo, Venezuela native looked up to Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners and wanted to be just like him.

“Obviously he was the best player in the game when I was a little kid and as a kid you always want to emulate when you’re playing in the backyard,” Gonzalez said. “You basically close your eyes and act like you’re playing in the big leagues and you want to be your favorite player.”

“I tried to emulate Griffey and I feel like that created me, my swing and everything,” CarGo continued. “I’ve always tried to copy his swing and then it helped me. I was able to hit the ball and make great plays and feel like him when I was playing little league. That helped me become a good player.”

Growing up in Venezuela had its limitations in terms of CarGo’s ability to watch his favorite player. Fortunately, one of Griffey’s teammates hailed from the country.

“It was hard because they didn’t show a lot of baseball games on TV, but I was lucky enough because he was playing with Omar Vizquel, and [he] was a Venezuelan,” Gonzalez said. “Back in the day, there weren’t a lot of Venezuelan players in the big leagues, not like today.”

“So they showed a lot more games that the Venezuelan players were involved in,” Gonzalez recollected. “Vizquel was one of those guys playing next to Griffey and they showed a lot of Rockies games too when [Andres] Galarraga was here.”

But Gonzalez said he would do whatever it took to get to watch his favorite ballplayer, even if it resulted in a nose bleed.

“I used to say I wouldn’t mind sitting in the very last seat in the upper deck if I had the opportunity to go watch Griffey,” Gonzalez quipped.

In 2008, Gonzalez’s efforts in emulating Junior paid off when he made his major league debut with the Oakland Athletics, bringing a beautiful swing—one not too different from Griffey’s—with him. Even then, CarGo still dreamed of meeting the Seattle legend.

“I had a great story because when I made my big league debut with Oakland, I was really excited,” Gonzalez said. “But at the same time, I was disappointed because I was like, ‘I’m never going to get to play against him or get to watch him or meet him, because he’s in the National League.’”

But luck, as it would have it, unexpectedly turned in Gonzalez’s favor.

“Next thing I know, same year he gets traded to the White Sox and then I look at the schedule right when I got called up and I saw that in a few weeks, they were going to come down to Oakland and play against us,” Gonzalez said. “I was really excited. I was counting the days just to watch him play and be on the same field with my childhood hero.”

When that home stand against Chicago came around, Gonzalez made darn sure he would fulfill his childhood dream.

“I was hitting in batting practice. I got there early hoping that I would get to see him outside,” Gonzalez said. “I got ready, and I’m waiting outside, then he never showed up. Anyways, I kind of got away from it.

“I was doing my thing, I was hitting in the cage and then Frank Thomas, he was talking behind the cage with one other player,” CarGo added. “I didn’t know it was Griffey.”

When he saw his hero, Gonzalez said he flashed back to his younger days watching him in Venezuela.

“When I stepped out of the cage, I was standing there like a little kid, not saying anything, and he shakes my hand,” he said. “I was in shock because he was my favorite player.”

Throughout his lone season with the Athletics and his eight years with the Rockies, Griffey’s early influence has proved successful in the way Gonzalez approaches the game. Now 31, Gonzalez has built up a cumulative batting line of .291/.347/.521 with 201 home runs across 1064 games. Those numbers have helped net him three Gold Gloves, two Silver Sluggers, the 2010 National League batting title and the 2012 NL Wilson Defensive Player of the Year award.

Clearly, CarGo’s early emulation practices have suited him well in his professional career.

“[Griffey] helped me a lot,” Gonzalez said. “I always say that to him now and we can joke about it and then make fun of each other. I used to say, ‘Man, you created me probably, because I wanted to be a big league player just because of you.’”

Nine years after first meeting the legend, Gonzalez said his childhood idol has become a close comrade that he can count on whenever he wants to have a little fun.

“It’s funny man, because nowadays it’s a different relationship than what it was,” CarGo continued. “Before it was I dreamed of meeting him, now I give him hard times and he gives me hard times. We play golf together, we go on trips, and he lives literally like five minutes away from my offseason home.”

“Now we’re friends,” CarGo exclaimed. “It’s awesome.”