In this two-part series, Patch profiles San Francisco Giants pitcher George Kontos. The Niles West graduate was at Wrigley Field playing against the Chicago Cubs on Friday.
But baseball is where he excelled. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for Illinois in 2003 as he played for the Wolves under Coach Garry Gustafson, with whom he is still in touch.
Colleges were paying attention, and that is when his parents began to think the fulfillment of a dream for so many teenage boys could be a reality for Kontos: a shot in the majors.
“To have my family come to all the games was one the deciding factors in me going there. Growing up in Lincolnwood and driving right up McCormick and being there, that was pretty important,” Kontos remembered. “Northwestern is an awesome academic school so that was a no-brainer once they came calling.”
Kontos pitched for three years for the Wildcats and in 2006, the Yankees drafted him in the fifth round. He was moving upwards in the Yankees’ system but in 2009, disaster struck; Kontos needed “Tommy John” surgery to repair his arm.
“It was very scary but after the procedure was done, there really wasn’t a doubt in my mind,” Kontos said. “I’m a pretty hard worker and I’m pretty diligent about the things I need to do.”
The Yankees let him go, but soon brought him back. On September 10, 2011, Kontos made his major league debut against the Los Angeles Angels. He made seven appearances for New York last year and was with them in spring training. But on April 4, he was traded across the country to the Giants.
San Francisco assigned him to their Triple A team, but he was brought up to the big club in June and was soon watching a magical moment as his teammate Matt Cain throw the 22nd perfect game in baseball history.
“That was my fourth day in San Francisco,” Kontos recalled. “It was the day after my birthday. That was probably my favorite baseball moment ever. Being a part of the perfect game. From the 7th inning on, AT & T Park was just shaking because the fans were going crazy.”
Kontos carved his name in the baseball history books himself on Aug. 29 when he came in relief for starter Barry Zito and picked up his first major league win with a two inning performance against the Houston Astros. The celebration came with the obligatory beer shower.
While the Giants are having a successful year, this has not been a season without difficulties. Melky Cabrera was named the All Star Game MVP but a few weeks later was suspended for 50 games by Major League Baseball for testing positive for steroids.
Kontos doesn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on that subject. “People make mistakes,” he says. “Hopefully he realizes he made a mistake and when he comes back he is ready to play baseball.”
Does he think performance enhancing drug usage in baseball will go away?
“At some point you would like to think that is all going to be over with, but it is never going to be gone,” Kontos says, “Hopefully the system is in place and it is working really well so far and hopefully guys will cut down on doing stuff like that.”
With the game about to start, members of Kontos' family start pouring in. Among those in attendance include his father, mother, brother, sister, grandmother and a few other relatives. The Greek family is all about staying together, with Kontos adding that he moves back home after the season to live with family.
“My parents were always supportive of me and they didn’t really push me too hard,” George Kontos says of his parents Nick and Theodora. “They let me do whatever I wanted to do. As baseball became the direction I was going to go, they stayed in my corner. They didn’t pressure me too much and they were always there for me.”
Kontos also added that he plans on using his economics degree he earned from Northwestern after his baseball career is over.
“He grew up a Cubs fan,” said his father. “To be back here at Wrigley Field is a special day for all of us. We’re all very proud of him.”
His mother was asked if she was thinking about the times she watched him pitch in Lincolnwood and Skokie.
“I’m a little bit emotional,” she says. “I just want him to do his best.”