George Kontos played in the parks of Lincolnwood and Skokie growing up. He was a three-star athlete at Niles West High School and went on to play baseball for three years at Northwestern University in Evanston.
Kontos made the major leagues when the New York Yankees drafted him. Now a member of the San Francisco Giants, Kontos achieved another career highlight when he played his first game at Wrigley Field on Friday.
Patch was along for the ride as Kontos achieved the fantasy that so many Chicago area young men have.
Most of the team did not arrive until a couple of hours before the game, with the exception of Kontos. He took a cab to the park, eschewing the team bus from his downtown hotel.
He finds his locker in the cramped Wrigley Field visitors’ clubhouse and prepared for a day that the pitcher, who grew up admiring the Cubs’ Kerry Wood, said was a “dream come true.”
“There is definitely going to be some extra adrenaline, being out on the field and knowing I have my family and friends watching,” Kontos said.
Kontos left 20 tickets for family friends to attend the game on Friday, and did the same for the games on Saturday and Sunday.
When Kontos was traded from the Yankees to the Giants in April, one of the first things he did was circle Aug. 31 on the schedule because he knew it would be a homecoming for him. It was be his first major league appearance in Chicago because he missed playing at U.S. Cellular Field for the Yankees last year by about a week.
Kontos came to the Giants after making seven relief appearances last year for New York. After yesterday’s action, Kontos had a 1-0 record and a 2.19 ERA for San Francisco. The Giants, barring a late season collapse, will be in the playoffs next month.
“George has done a nice job,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “He’s given us some quality innings to get to our setup guy, and he has been a nice addition since he got here. He’s thrown the ball well.”
The Kontos arsenal includes a fastball, changeup and a slider that Kontos described as his best pitch.
“It has been nice to see how he is throwing the ball and how he attacks the hitters,” Bochy said.
The San Francisco skipper was also aware of the homecoming for his pitcher. “He has been hogging all the tickets today,” Bochy joked. “I’m sure pitching here at Wrigley is special for him.”
Soon Kontos was immersed in his pregame routine. Amid joking around with teammates, he rode an exercise bike and rolled over a circular tube, which he said loosened up his muscles.
A little while later, when the Giants were in their truncated warm-ups due to the late arrival, Kontos was stood along the right field line signing autographs. His sister Dana, brother Chris and grandmother Georgia received on-field passes, he greeted them all with hugs, and posed for pictures.
Culmination of a Journey
Kontos grew up in Lincolnwood, part of a family that was in the restaurant supply business at one time, but has now shifted to real estate management and convenience stores.
Kontos was such a rabid Cubs fan growing up that he was standing on Waveland Avenue on that infamous October 2003 night of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series when the Cubs got within five outs of the World Series.
Coincidentally, Kontos had a brother who played for a travelling baseball team for teens. His brother's coach: Steve Bartman, the fan that caught the ball in 2003, which some said prevented the North-siders from advancing.
This is Part 1 of a series that showcases a day in the life of a MLB player. Be sure to check Part 2 tomorrow.