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Seattle Mariners

Former Gonzaga star Marco Gonzales returns to Spokane with Mariners caravan

Blake Luiten, 5, gets excited after receiving an autographed card from former Gonzaga University baseball player and current Seattle Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales, back left, Wednesday at The Warehouse. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Marco Gonzales stood quietly in front of a Spokane crowd dressed in Seattle Mariners apparel.

As expected, he wore a white Mariners jersey with his No. 32 on the back. But on his head was a tribute to his baseball roots – a Gonzaga baseball cap.

The pitcher was finally back where it all started.

“Washington is home to me,” Gonzales said. “This is where it all started for me. This is where my path started.”

Gonzales, a native of Fort Collins, Colorado, played baseball for the Gonzaga Bulldogs from 2011-2013. He was back in Spokane on Wednesday, greeting fans at The Warehouse Performance Center as part of the Mariners’ annual caravan tour around the state. He was joined by Mariners catcher Mike Marjama, infielder Taylor Motter, broadcaster Aaron Goldsmith and the team’s mascot, the Mariner Moose.

The crew is on its first week of a three-week fan tour. The tour will extend to Cle Elum, Yakima, Wenatchee, Walla Walla and the Tri-Cities this week before the small group of Mariners heads to various cities along the coastline.

Just before meeting the fans, Gonzales took a familiar stroll around the Gonzaga campus across the street.

“It was like I never left. This place has so many special memories, especially this building right here,” he said from inside The Warehouse, where Gonzales had regular hitting practices as a Zag. “This has a very special place in my heart.”

Gonzales pitched and played first base for the Zags and was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year in his first season at Gonzaga.

He played three seasons in Spokane before being selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 2013 draft. He made his major league debut in a Cardinals jersey a year later, and spent the following two years nursing an elbow injury and jumping around in the farm system until he was advised to pack his bags for good last summer.

He was going to Seattle.

“I didn’t believe it,” Gonzales said.

He was acquired by the Mariners in exchange for hitting prospect Tyler O’Neill. Gonzales worked a few games for Seattle’s Triple-A affiliate, the Tacoma Rainiers, before getting called up in August when M’s ace Felix Hernandez was placed on the 10-day disabled list.

“You walk into a locker room and you see different colors on the wall and different color jerseys, it starts to hit you,” Gonzales said about his first day with the Mariners. “And then you walk by Robby (Robinson Cano), and you’re like, ‘Well, I guess I am here.’ ”

Gonzales appeared in 10 games for the Mariners last season, starting seven. He pitched 36 2/3 innings and posted a 5.40 ERA.

The Mariners players and Goldsmith took a few questions from a crowd of close to a hundred fans on Wednesday before giving away prizes and signing autographs.

“I want to see a hair flip,” one child said toward Motter, whose well-known flip of his long, blonde hair went viral within just a few weeks of his first season with the Mariners in April.

Motter laughed and acted like he was caught off guard by the request. His teammates didn’t buy it.

“Don’t let him fool you. He was in the bus combing his hair getting ready for this,” Marjama joked.

Some fans were eager to ask Gonzales if he thought he would get a regular starting role in Seattle’s pitching rotation this season. Others were just happy to see one of their favorite Zags back in town.

“Nice to see you again, man,” one fan said to Gonzales, who had found a seat at a table alongside his teammates and Goldsmith to sign autographs.

“Marco, welcome back,” another fan said.

“It’s good to be back,” Gonzales said.

Later in the evening, Gonzales went to Twitter to thank fans for making his homecoming so memorable.

“Emotional return back to the place that made me into the man that I am today,” he wrote. “ … it was truly an honor to be back in Zag land.”