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World Series: Napa coach’s nephew a World Series champ
World Series

World Series: Napa coach’s nephew a World Series champ

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When Tony Gonsolin started on the mound for the Los Angeles Dodgers on two days’ rest in Game 2 of the World Series two Wednesdays ago, his Uncle Steve watched on TV from Napa as he gave up a home run.

Tony Gonsolin lasted just 1 1/3 innings, throwing only 29 pitches, and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Dodgers 6-4 to even the series at a game apiece.

But Steve Gonsolin, a 1991 Napa High School graduate who has coached Napa High and the Napa Track Club high jumpers for 23 of the last 27 years, was pleased to see Tony not give up.

“Tony gives up that quick early home run, but the very next two batters, he strikes them out,” Steve noted. “That’s the fighter. That’s who he is. He will do what it takes to get the job done.”

This Tuesday night, Tony Gonsolin got the start in Game 6, gave up a one-out homer to Randy Arozarena and lasted 1 2/3 innings. But he got four of his five outs on strikeouts, six relievers followed, and the Dodgers won the title-clinching game, 3-1.

It’s the Dodgers’ first World Series title since they beat the Oakland A’s in 1988, six years before Tony was born.

KTVU Channel 2 interviewed Tony’s father, 1985 Napa High graduate Scott Gonsolin, for a two-minute segment — bit.ly/35KvP7R — that aired Wednesday night.

“I’m always nervous when he’s pitching, especially when he doesn’t have his lights-out stuff,” Scott said in the video. “It’s always nerve-wracking. But, of course, as the night went on, nervousness (became) jubilation.”

KVTU’s Cristina Rendon noted that Scott’s wife and other son are “die-hard Giants fans,” along with many family friends.

“When he was drafted,” Scott quipped, ‘(we said) ‘Congratulations, I’m sorry.’”

But when a relative is on the team, that all changes.

“Him being on the roster and him contributing all the way up to the World Series is just amazing to watch,” Scott told KTVU. “I texted him ‘Congratulations’ and he put up an Instagram photo of him holding the trophy. I got his usual one-word answers— thank, you, thanks.’”

If Tony ever gets back to the World Series, Scott told the station, “he’ll be able to take that experience of this year and capitalize on it and succeed even more than he did this year.”

The season was mind-blowing for his uncle.

“When he was 5 years old and I was babysitting him,” Steve recalled, “he and I were playing catch and he said ‘I want to play professional baseball.’ I said ‘If you practice really hard and do your very best and give yourself a chance, I don’t know if you’ll make it, but just keep working hard.’ That’s all he’s ever done.

“He’s not a quitter, that’s for darn sure. He is a fighter. That’s what our last name stands for, fighter. That’s how I was brought up, that’s how my brother was brought up. You don’t lay down. You battle until it’s over. If you’re getting pulled because you are no longer able to do it because you’re injured or something, that’s not quitting. But if you go out there and put your very best foot forward, you have an opportunity to win or at least get your very best. That’s all that matters.”

Steve Gonsolin has never coached baseball, but said he’s seen many high jumpers quit.

“They get their toe over the board on one and step off on the next one, so they have two fouls and two more jumps and at the end of the day I look at the results and see they never took those other two jumps,” he said. “I have to talk to them and say ‘We don’t quit. We have to have a champion mindset. You have no reason to be here if you can’t rise to the challenge. My brother was that way, I was that way, and my son (Austin) was definitely that way because that’s how I raised him.”

Steve’s son, Austin Gonsolin, played soccer, basketball and baseball for Trinity Prep before graduating in 2018.

Steve said he and Scott played one or two years or baseball each before focus on track and field in the spring. Scott also played soccer and basketball, and his wife was a distance runner. The brothers went into outdoor careers. Steve has had a landscaping business since 1997 and Scott, a Brentwood resident, is am Oakland firefighter.

Tony graduated from Vacaville High in 2012 — four years after his brother, Andrew, who was also a baseball standout — after playing two varsity baseball seasons for the Bulldogs. Vacaville was the Monticello Empire League champion from 2011 to 2015, sharing it with Napa in 2012 and Vintage in 2015.

On April 18, 2012, Uncle Steve told his high jumpers he needed to leave early to go to the baseball field next door so he and his mother could watch Tony play in person for what would be the final time. Tony didn’t disappoint, going 2 for 5 with a triple and three RBIs as Vacaville tied the game 6-6 with a five-run rally in the top of the seventh inning.

“I’m wearing Napa clothing and yet I’m rooting for a Vacaville kid,” Steve recalled. “Anytime he came up to bat, we’d be ‘All right, let’s go Tony, get a hit, give it a ride buddy,’ and there’d be a couple of Napa people saying to me ‘Coach, Coach, that’s the wrong team,’ and I’d say ‘That’s my nephew.’”

Napa’s Tim Nunn would be the hero that day, belting a walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth to win it, 7-6, and pitching the last 2 2/3 innings for the win.

Gonsolin pitched only 29 2/3 innings that season but was 4-1, with a five-hitter in an 11-1, five-inning mercy rule win over Vintage.

He went on to play for Saint Mary’s College of Moraga, where he pitched because the Gaels didn’t have enough throwers.

“He always considered himself a hitter and outfielder first,” Eric Valenzuela, the Saint Mary’s head coach from 2014-19, told sfgate.com in a recent feature story. “When he was on the mound, it was a hobby.

“His bullpen was just electric,” said Valenzuela, now the head coach at Long Beach State. “He was really raw. He looked like a position player pitching, but he threw a curve, slider and changeup and had a good feel for all of them.”

After helping the Gaels win their first-ever West Coast Conference title in 2016, Gonsolin was drafted by the Dodgers in the ninth round as a pitcher. After playing for minor league teams such as the Madison Mallards of Wisconsin and the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, the right-hander made his big league debut in June 2019.

“You never know what’s going to happen when you see high school kids playing,” Steve said. “You thinking they’re really good, but how good are they? Then they go to college and do their thing there and then it’s like, wow, they’re really good. He just kept improving and then he was drafted. That was pretty incredible in itself. Then the speed in which he started in A ball and worked his way up to Triple-A as quickly as he did was just phenomenal.”

In 2019 for the Dodgers, Tony posted a 2.93 ERA in 11 games, making six starts. This season, still considered a rookie, he had a 2.31 ERA and was considered for Rookie of the Year honors.

“Looking back, even on draft day, he thought he was going to be taken as a position player,” Valenzuela told sfgate.com. “He had a really good arm in the outfield and thought he was a little too raw to be a professional pitcher, but he got so much better in those three years. The Dodgers took him as a pitcher, and now look at him.”

Which brought a whole new appreciation for the Dodgers to the Gonsolin family.

“I’ve been an Oakland A’s fan forever and my wife — who is from Southern California — is Dodger blue through and through, and so is my son. They ride me a little bit and I ride them a little bit. But once Tony was a Dodger, that changed my focus and I was like ‘Hey wherever he’s at, that’s where I’m at, so if he gets traded sometime, then I’ll be that team’s fan. When his time’s up with the Dodgers, I’ll no longer be a fan of them.

“Our dad’s not really a baseball fan at all. He’ll literally watch Tony pitch and after he gets those outs he goes to the other room until my mom says ‘Tony’s pitching again.’

“When Tony got his first major league hit, that was the biggest game for me. He was known to be a hitter before he was a pitcher, so that’s really incredible. He wants to be that guy coming off the bench saying ‘You need a pinch hitter? OK that’s me. I’m here.’ He wants to win just like everybody else on that team. I love that competitiveness that he has.”

One might say the Gonsolins like to claw their way back, considering Tony has become known for wearing cat-themed shirts and cleats.

“The funniest thing is my son is a cat guy, too,” Steve said. “He had all these cat shirts growing up, so there’s something to do with Gonsolin and cats. “I showed him one of Tony’s cat videos on YouTube and he said, ‘We are so related.’”



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Sports Reporter

Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.

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