Smokies manager builds trust through cuts

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In 1991, Smokies Manager Jimmy Gonzalez saw his life change when his name was called in the first round of the MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. That same year he found a hobby in haircutting not knowing how well the two could go together.

“I had one of my teammates cut my hair, it was just one of those things where I was curious about it and he just kind of showed me step by step,” Gonzalez said.

Eighteen months later Gonzalez bought his first piece of equipment, one he still owns and uses today, for 75 dollars. The collection has since grown. It now includes a makeshift barbershop: a chair, mirror and barber pole – the first two traveling with him to spring training and then wherever he’s stationed that season.   

In the same way his teammate cut his hair in the early 90’s, Gonzalez used his coaching colleagues to hone his skills when he got started. His talents weren’t hidden long.

“They saw one of the coaches and then word kind of got around,” Gonzalez said. “One guy said oh you did that and it was kind of like that. Other guys see it and they start asking.”

Gonzalez has never had to ask his players if they wanted a near-free haircut. Instead a whiteboard hangs on the wall of his barbershop with names listed indicating who’s next in line. Smokies’ infield Vimael Machin among his many loyal patrons.

“Someone told me he cuts hair and I didn’t believe it at first,” the Southern League All-Star said. “Having him here is basically a plus because you don’t have to go to the barbershop.”

There’s the convenience and a price that’s hard to beat. Gonzalez well aware of the salary for minor league players, having played minor league baseball for fourteen seasons, instead of cash he asks they help replenish a cleaning supply or razor.

Sitting down in ‘Jimmy’z’ chair isn’t just about getting a fade or a trim. Gonzalez uses his work time to get to know the people behind his ballplayers.

“At first I didn’t go into doing it for that reason but I noticed that that was what was going on,” Gonzalez said.  “I’m asking how things are going at home and they get to open up and share things that I would never know on the field.”

In those talks Gonzalez has found understanding for what’s occured on the diamond, knowing that often personal lives reflect what’s happening professionally. His desire to understand has made him a welcome presence in the clubhouse.

“I consider him like a teammate, Machin said.”I mean he’s always hanging with us and talking with us not only about baseball but outside of baseball. It’s always good to have a head coach like that.”

In the minors you need to trust your organization can help develop your game into MLB caliber stuff. Jimmy Gonzalez works on building that trust one cut at a time.

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