For ex-Ranger Guzman, charitable work is personal
Star Telegram - Posted Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011
By Jim Reeves
Special to the Star-Telegram
ARLINGTON -- Jose Guzman remembers those languid afternoons as if they happened only yesterday.
He would be lying on the couch in the little house in Santa Isabel, Puerto Rico, the smell of the sea drifting in through the windows, his head in his mother's lap. Maria Guzman would twirl his hair in her fingers, lightly brushing her hand across his head until he would drift off to sleep.
It is one of the fondest memories Guzman has of his mom, who died three years ago from complications of Alzheimer's, and tears still well up in his eyes when he thinks of those times and of his mom. She was 85 years old when she died, and she didn't know her son anymore.
On Monday, Guzie, as he was and is still known among his friends with the Texas Rangers, will honor those memories with the first Guzman 23 Foundation Celebrity Golf Tournament at Trophy Club.
Maria would be proud. She is the reason Guzie launched the Guzman 23 Foundation in the first place. He not only wanted to do something that would honor Maria, but to try to help those who are going through what he and his siblings went through when they lost their mom long before she actually passed away.
"It was tough," said Guzman, by seven years the youngest of Maria's eight children. "I was here [in Texas], so my sister was taking care of her. I went to see her and it took a while for her to recognize me. I knew when I came back again that she wouldn't know who I was ... and she didn't."
It is still difficult for Guzman to talk about those last visits with the mother he had cherished all his life. He was the baby of the family, and they were particularly close as he grew up in the tiny fishing village of Santa Isabel.
"If you blink, you'll pass it," Guzman said. "If you're there early in the morning, you can still see the fishermen coming in after they've been out all night fishing."
Guzie grew up there, working in local seafood restaurants or helping his brother's construction company, making money for the weekends. He was also playing baseball, of course.
He was good at baseball; he knew that. Playing against the older boys, he could hum the ball right past them. They would walk away from the plate, angrily shaking their heads that this skinny kid could somehow strike them out.
"My dad always told me that I would someday be a major league pitcher," Guzie remembered. "He planted that seed in my brain."
Rangers scout Orlando Gomez, who would also discover and sign a slender outfielder named Ruben Sierra a year later, signed Guzman to a free agent contract in 1981. By 1985, he was pitching for the Rangers.
Late in 1985, another young Puerto Rican right-hander would join the Texas rotation. With Guzman and Edwin Correa, the Rangers' future rotation looked as if it would have two premier anchors. Instead, both would see their careers cut short by rotator cuff injuries.
Guzman was so polished, so efficient, so smooth, grizzled Baltimore manager Earl Weaver once asked Texas baseball writers this question after Guzie had mesmerized the Orioles one night in 1986: "Where did this guy learn to pitch -- heaven?"
It seemed like a piece of heaven when Guzman was growing up in Santa Isabel, where life proceeded at a slower pace, on fabled "Caribbean time."
Maria was a terrific cook, and little Guzie couldn't wait to see what she might concoct for dinner each night. Would it be his mom's famed rice and beans, or her mouth-watering fried chicken?
"I loved it all," he said.
Guzman is 48 now and has moved from doing color analysis on Rangers games for Spanish radio to doing 23 (his favorite number) games a year on Spanish telecasts for Fox television.
"I like it better," he said. "It gives me more time to spend with the foundation."
He established the Guzman 23 Foundation last March, and Monday is the first celebrity event, sponsored by Pinnacle Entertainment. The tournament is already sold out. More than 50 of his friends from the Rangers and Cowboys will be there to help.
"As soon as they heard what it was for, they couldn't wait to get aboard," Guzman said. "I do a lot of charity events, but I hadn't seen anything for Alzheimer's, so I wanted to open my own foundation to help people in that situation.
"The money raised will go to people who need help getting nurses or taking care of their loved ones. The main thing will be to help families who can't afford insurance or medical help."
Guzie, with his gentle nature and championship smile, has remained popular in the DFW area, and there's a new woman in his life, too.
He and Kristina Hayes met when they were paired together in the Southlake Newcomers Club's "Dancing With Our Stars" competition last year. They won the contest, doing three dances: a waltz, the tango and a couple's choice.
Naturally, Guzie chose the salsa. They will defend their title in February.
"We had a lot of fun," Guzman said. "We just seemed to hit it off right away."
One of these days Guzie hopes to take Kristina to Puerto Rico. They will drive along the coast, to the little village of Santa Isabel, see the waves rolling up on the beach, smell the tang of the salt and fish in the air.
And Guzie will do what his mother couldn't in the years before she died.
He will remember.