PHOENIX -- Much has been made of Gio Gonzalez's maturation over the last couple of years, a gradual process that turned the left-hander into a first-time All-Star this season.
But Gonzalez is still very much a kid at heart, not to mention a true fan of a game that has awarded him so much.
Both personae, which combine for one of the more likeable personalities in Oakland, were on full display at a hotel ballroom on Monday, when Gonzalez couldn't wipe the smile from his face.
The southpaw, the club's lone All-Star representative and a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season, insisted that he wouldn't draw much attention, that most media members would be drawn to other areas in the room, to David Ortiz, Josh Hamilton and the like.
Gonzalez proved correct, drawing a fairly small crowd, but those who walked up to chat with the fast-talking 25-year-old were greeted with a familiar tune. As he's done throughout his career, Gonzalez took the majority of his time to thank those who helped him reach the national stage.
He praised pitching coach Ron Romanick and batterymate Kurt Suzuki, acknowledged the opportunity handed to him by Oakland and, every few minutes, returned to talking about the great support system that is his family.
"They're almost like luggage, always with me," Gonzalez said.
As usual, Gonzalez left little time to talk about himself, the only such moments coming when he was asked about his latest trip to the barbershop. Ever since the sixth grade, Gonzalez has gone for a trim nearly every week, a tradition that wasn't about to be interrupted by All-Star festivities.
"I got one last night after I landed," he said. "That's how I relax."
And as if on cue, he followed with a sincere "thank you," this time to the barber in Phoenix.
Dressed in his typical attire -- jeans and a plaid shirt -- the young hurler talked about picking his American League teammates' brains, following the "soak it all in" advice bestowed upon him by former All-Stars and teammates Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill, and his excitement surrounding Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby.
AL STARTING NINE
"That was always my favorite event to watch growing up," he said. "I'm so amped up for everything. Give me a bat, and I'll play."
Though Gonzalez won't be swinging for the fences, he won't mind his role as a spectator cheering on buddy Ortiz, the captain of the AL Derby squad. The pair met in 2006, and Ortiz has taken Gonzalez under his wing.
"It's great to see him here," Ortiz said. "He makes me feel old, 'cause I feel like I met him when he was a baby. Next thing you know, he's here at an All-Star Game. I'm really proud of him.
"I came to be better by listening to the good things people had to say, and I think that's a big advantage in baseball. Gio, whenever I always get the opportunity to let him know things, I do, because he's a great kid. He has unbelievable ability to play the game. He's a great human being."
Gonzalez's flair for connecting with Ortiz and people like him is matched by the talent that comes from his curveball, which was developed with the help of his father, Max, who, like many of his family members, are in town.
"I'm glad I'm not facing him here," Ortiz said. "That curve, it's nasty. It's filthy. He's got great stuff."
Gonzalez, the 38th overall pick by the White Sox in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, is in just his second full big league season and fourth overall. His road to the big leagues and the All-Star Game, though, was anything but a smooth ride, evidenced by three trades in a span of three years.
The White Sox sent him to the Phillies as part of a deal for Jim Thome in 2005, a year that was followed by a return to Chicago, regained as part of a package for Freddy Garcia. Then, in 2008, the White Sox sent him away again, this time with Ryan Sweeney and Fautino De Los Santos to Oakland in exchange for Nick Swisher.
"I really don't think about all that," Gonzalez said. "I'm just thankful for the opportunity that Oakland has given me. Being here, representing them, it's a great feeling."
But even in the early stages of his tenure with the A's, Gonzalez endured more than a couple of rough stretches. After starting the 2008 season with Triple-A Sacramento and going 8-7, the A's called him up on Aug. 6 and inserted him in the rotation. He responded with a 1-4 mark and 9.32 ERA over seven starts, numbers that sent him to the bullpen for the rest of the season.
Not even a relief job at the big league level was his at the beginning of 2009, when he again started the year with the River Cats. He had two brief callups before receiving a permanent promotion at the end of June. By year's end he had compiled a 6-7 record and 5.75 ERA in Oakland, all the while battling emotions that often led to disastrous innings.
Those mental troubles left him on the roster bubble in 2010. Not only did he make it, he earned the fifth spot in the rotation. Since then he has become a rotation mainstay and, in the first half of 2011, posted an 8-6 record and 2.47 ERA (good for fifth best in the AL), averaging 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings.
"I feel like I've matured a lot throughout the years," he said. "When I was hopping from team to team, I really didn't have a solid foundation until Oakland came along and gave me an opportunity to pitch. I tried to do my best to represent them the best I could and mold myself into a good pitcher. I want to be the guy to constantly work and get better."
For now he will simply enjoy the present and take in the unforgettable moments that await him this week. It's likely he'll see at least an inning of work during the All-Star Game, but no matter the result, he'll be ready to do what he does best: Show appreciation to those around him, including AL manager Ron Washington.
"I've already thanked him so much for allowing me to be here," he said. "I almost went down and kissed him on the feet."