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Gonzo 'honored' as D-backs jersey retired

Gonzo 'honored' as D-backs jersey retired

PHOENIX -- When he was acquired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 1999, Luis Gonzalez was asked what number he would like to wear.

Having worn 26, 25 and 28 at previous stops in his career, Gonzalez simply said, "Give me something in the 20s."

The club issued him No. 20, which he wore with distinction from 1999-2006.

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Saturday night at Chase Field, the D-backs made it so no player would ever wear that number again as they retired it in a pregame ceremony.

Befitting the bond Gonzalez shared with the fans, a sellout crowd packed its way into Chase Field with most in their seats well before the game's first pitch so they could watch the ceremonies at home plate.

"This is a special place for me and my family," Gonzalez said. "And to come out there it was solidified by just looking out into the crowd and seeing how many people were here in support. I'm overwhelmed, honored and at the same time excited."

Seated with Gonzalez on the field were his wife Christine and their triplets, his mother, grandmother, brother, sister as well as numerous other family members, his high school and college baseball coaches and several college roommates.

"This was kind of closure, my way of saying I appreciate everything you guys have done for me in the past," Gonzalez said. "My family is all Cuban so they were sitting out there today pretty emotional. For me it was special because they got to sit out on the field and kind of enjoy it with me."

Gonzalez was given a framed No. 20 jersey by managing general partner Ken Kendrick and team president and CEO Derrick Hall as well as an artist's rendering of his game-winning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

The club then unveiled a No. 20 in purple and turquoise above the Arizona Baseball Club in right field where Gonzalez's number will reside next to Jackie Robinson's No. 42.

"It's just hard to fathom," Gonzalez said. "When my kid's kids come here it's always going to be there."

The D-backs initially had a club policy that only players inducted into the Hall of Fame would have their numbers retired, but they changed it within the past year.

Gonzalez's popularity with fans had plenty to do with his on-field performance, but it was greatly enhanced by the way he carried himself off the field as he became a fixture in the Arizona community.

"I never tried to shelter myself from the people," Gonzalez said. "My kids are all public-school kids, we didn't consider ourselves any different. My family values were always treat people the way you want to be treated, and for me that was important because I knew I wasn't going to play this game forever and the same people that you so-called pass on the way up are the same ones that are going to be there on the way down. When my career was over I wanted them of course to talk about me as a baseball player, but I wanted them to talk about me as a good person too."

There was plenty of that talk Saturday as former teammates such as Craig Counsell, Jay Bell and Mark Grace weighed in with in-game video tributes along with childhood friend and former Major Leaguer Tino Martinez and former club owner Jerry Colangelo and former GM Joe Garagiola, Jr.

As a special assistant to Hall, Gonzalez has worked with a number of different departments. With the departure of GM Josh Byrnes, Gonzalez now figures to take a more active role in the baseball operations department.

Meanwhile, he will continue to try and further his work in the community.

"We've decided to stay here and try to make a positive impact now that my playing career is over to try to do things to help youths and continue to do positive things in the community," Gonzalez said. "I have a lot of plans with the Diamondbacks to start some youth facilities. That's my goal. I want to try to get kids away from playing video games all the time and trying to do positive things out in the street."

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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