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Gonzalez recalls Tampa’s tradition

Times Staff Writer

When he was a youngster playing at Tampa’s Jefferson High, Luis Gonzalez said he was well aware of the area’s deep baseball tradition.

“Going from Al Lopez to Lou Piniella, Tony La Russa, [Wade] Boggs, [Dave] Magadan. All these guys,” Gonzalez said. “And then to add your name to the list of guys, that was always my dream as a little kid. And now you just hope that baseball hasn’t kind of faded out.”

The numbers suggest it hasn’t. Half a dozen high school and junior college players from the Tampa Bay area have been chosen in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft since 2000 and there are 13 players from the greater Tampa Bay area in the majors, including Gonzalez and Gary Sheffield of the Detroit Tigers. Still, Gonzalez worries that there’s less passion for the sport than when he was growing up. And that’s something he said he wants to address through community work.

“With today’s society, there’s so much more stuff kids get involved in. When I grew up in the streets here it was more stickball and playing baseball 24/7,” he said. “I have still ties in Tampa....I’d just liked to continue in keeping my roots around here because this is where I grew up.”

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Gonzalez was held out of Saturday’s starting lineup after hitting a home run and a triple in the Dodgers’ win Friday. But even so, his most recent visit to Tampa Bay wasn’t nearly as dramatic as his first as a major league player in 1998 when he was with the Tigers.

In his first at-bat Gonzalez hit the first homer in Tropicana Field history. But what Gonzalez remembers most about the hit was that it nearly killed his grandmother.

“The traveling secretary gave me [bad] seats and grandmother was maybe three rows right in front of it down the right-field line. I was [upset],” Gonzalez said.

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Gonzalez wasn’t the only one celebrating a homecoming this weekend. Dodgers broadcaster Jerry Reuss, who spent 22 years in the big leagues, took a walk Saturday to 91-year-old Al Lang Field, the bayside ballpark where he played his first spring-training game in 1969 as a 19-year-old with the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It was the New York Mets versus the St. Louis Cardinals with Bob Gibson on the mound,” Reuss said. “Tommie Agee led off and the first pitch, Gibson knocked him down, his helmet went flying. Steve Carlton, sitting next to me in the bullpen, leaned over and said ‘Welcome to the big leagues, kid.’ ”

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Nomar Garciaparra, in Manager Grady Little’s original lineup batting third and playing first base, was sent to the team hotel about four hours before game time because of flu-like symptoms.... Russell Martin’s steal of second base in the eighth inning Saturday gave him 13 this season, most by a catcher since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles.... Surgery to repair reliever Yhency Brazoban’s torn right labrum was successful Friday, but the right-hander will sit out the rest of the season. Brazoban, who pitched only five innings last season because of an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, is expected to begin throwing in the fall. He appeared in four games this season, throwing 1 2/3 innings, before going back on the disabled list June 1....The Dodgers on Saturday signed second-round draft pick Michael Watt, a left-hander from Capistrano Valley High.

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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