The last names Gonzalez and Candiotti have been staples of the Valley baseball community for nearly 20 years. But now, all eyes aren’t necessarily directed at former big leaguers Luis Gonzalez or Tom Candiotti, but toward their sons.
Chaparral sophomores Jacob Gonzalez and Casey Candiotti have emerged as two key contributors for the Firebirds this season. Their dads, who trade their bats and microphones in for a bag of sunflower seeds and folding chairs when at Jerry Dawson Field, are seen but not heard. Tom sits in the bleachers behind the plate, a perfect view for analyzing the strike zone. You’ll find Luis in a chair along the right field fence.
“I just try to stay out of the way. That’s why I sit down the right field line and let him go through the process, learning on his own,” Gonzalez said. “If he ever has questions or sometimes we will go over certain situations. He is starting to adapt pretty well. He knows a lot of situations (since) he has grown up around the game his whole life.”
Jacob has most certainly adapted. The sophomore occupies the hot corner in the field and the clean up spot in the lineup for Sam Messina’s squad, where he has hit .457 with five home runs and 18 RBIs.
Casey has been the model of consistency on the mound.
In 15 innings, Candiotti struck out seven and sports a 1.87 earned run average. Is he overpowering? No. But with just two walks on the year, he pounds the strike zone.
Just like his dad.
The current Diamondback radio analyst is now teaching his son the pitch he utilized often in his major league career.
“We both don’t throw as hard as everybody else. He is teaching me the knuckleball right now, so once we get that, we will be very similar,” Casey said.
Like their fathers, Casey and Jacob’s relationship was cultivated years ago before their time at Chaparral. Living down the street from each other, two generations of the Gonzalez and Candiotti families have shared the baseball field in club and now high school baseball.
“I played with him on my first team ever in little league,” Casey said. “I live across the street from him, and we’ve been really great friends since we were born.”
The long-time friends have delivered for Chaparral in 2015, and success on the diamond isn’t something new for these families. Tom Candiotti had a 16-year career with six teams as a knuckleballer. He has a career ERA of 3.73 and threw 17 complete games in 1986.
As for Luis Gonzalez, we all remember “The Hit”. The Diamondbacks left fielder muscled a Mariano Rivera cutter over the head of Derek Jeter in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, bringing Jay Bell in to score and the first, and only, major sports title to The Valley. That play may have immortalized Gonzalez into the Mount Rushmore of Phoenix sports, but he is just “dad” to Jacob. The lone boy in the set of Gonzalez triplets thought coming to the ballpark for “work” was something most kids experienced growing up.
“It was normal to me when I was little,” Jacob said. “I wish that it had been a couple years later so I would have gotten the full experience, but it was normal to me when I was growing up.”
While surrounded by the Arizona Diamondbacks teams of the early 2000s, Jacob picked up on skills and mindsets that still help him on the field today.
“It was…the demeanor that everyone carried around the clubhouse and the attitude that everyone had. That’s what I watched, and I really grasped hold of that at a young age.”
Even though the fathers’ playing days are behind them, they are able to remain close Major League Baseball and the Diamondback organization. Gonzalez is a special assistant to team President Derrick Hall, and Candiotti is going into his tenth year of broadcasting with the team. Their sons continue to stay involved with the organization as well and learn from the current club.
“He comes to so many games. He sits there, he watches and he studies. You can absorb things by Major Leaguers, particularly when you are at a game and not just on the TV,” Tom Candiotti said. “I always have a bunch of questions to answer after the game.”
Now, both dads watch on as their sons navigate the varsity season with the Firebirds. The 11-7-1 baseball team have a young, talented team, having to replace 11 seniors from their 2014 squad that made was one game short of making it to the state title game. The ‘Birds have lost some close games early in the year, but are hoping to learn from those losses for later in the season.
With Gonzalez, Candiotti, senior shortstop Nick Guaranga, who leads the team in nearly every offensive category, two-sport start Gianni Tomasi, and a deep pitching staff, Chaparral is hoping 2015 can be a year that sticks out in an already decorated baseball history.
“There have been a lot of Major League guys who have come through (Chaparral), whether it be (Paul Konerko) or Ike Davis, guys like that,” Luis said. “To be associated with Chaparral High School and the tradition…is pretty nice”
With a pretty good track record of baseball tradition at school and at home, expect Gonzalez and Candiotti to have continued success on the diamond.