DENVER -- The Major Leagues -- and the Venezuelan players who started in them -- seemed so far away from Carlos Gonzalez when he was growing up in Maracaibo. Now that Gonzalez has achieved star status with the Rockies, he's trying to bring himself closer to those watching him.
One of Gonzalez's favorite activities is to tour the country with other stars, as one of the celebrity faces of a company that makes a popular root beer, Maltin Polar. It is considered the premier endorsement deal for a Venezuelan athlete. But part of what he does is rewarding, rather than lucrative.
"Polar does some charity stuff," Gonzalez said. "We are kind of like the heroes for the little kids -- Miguel Cabrera, Omar Vizquel and I -- and we always go to the baseball fields and give away stuff like gloves, batting gloves, everything they need to play their game."
Giving back and inspiring a future generation is a year-round job that is being recognized in the United States during Hispanic Heritage Month, which is celebrated Sept. 15-Oct. 15. During this time, the nation recognizes diversity and the many contributions from Latin American cultures.
Although the heroes of his youth were no closer than his television set, Gonzalez thanks them for inspiring him.
"Being able to get the opportunity to play in the big leagues was always a dream for me," said Gonzalez, who won the National League batting championship in 2010 and received his first career invitation to the All-Star Game this year. "The most important players from our country, guys like Bobby Abreu, Andres Galarraga, Omar Vizquel, I always dreamed I'd get to the same level that they were playing. Right now, to have that opportunity is very special for me. I feel blessed."
Gonzalez hopes that he and his fellow big leaguers can help younger players reach his level.
"It's a great opportunity for those kids now," Gonzalez said. "When I was in [their] situation, I didn't have anyone to help me or support me in baseball. And now that we're doing that, it makes me feel really good to help these young kids and one day maybe they can be big league players just like us."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.