For Giavotella, hard work runs in his family
Royals rookie knows best way to beat odds is to put in the time
KANSAS CITY -- Talk to anyone who knows Johnny Giavotella, and one word that inevitably pops up is "competitor."
It's not a new development for the Royals' rookie second baseman. Giavotella skipped right over tee ball and started playing coach-pitch baseball. He excelled in baseball, obviously, but also in basketball and football.
Talk to anyone who doesn't know him and they might say "Gio" is a little small for a Major League Baseball player. And maybe he is. He's listed at 5-foot-8 and 185 pounds.
Combine Gio the competitor and Gio the little guy, and you get a sense of what drove the 24-year-old to make it to the big leagues.
"I think not as much [that it's] little-man syndrome," Royals pitcher Everett Teaford said about Giavotella. "More like back against the wall. 'No one really believes in me. I've got to go out and prove myself everywhere I go, and no matter what I do, I'm going to have doubters.' Even if he doesn't, he still feels he does, and I think that drives him."
"I think that's true," Giavotella said. "I think based on my size, a lot of people have doubts about me, and knowing that motivates me to practice harder and prove them wrong."
Most of the doubters the Louisiana native could claim throughout his life have been silenced. After starring on a state championship team at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, La., and continuing to win at the University of New Orleans, Giavotella was a second-round pick by the Royals in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft.
Being small has never stopped Giavotella from doing anything he wanted to accomplish in sports. Despite the fact he reached his current height by his junior year of high school, he started at middle linebacker at Jesuit. Giavotella's father, Johnny Sr., told his son to model his baseball game after Pete Rose, showing him highlight videos of the former Reds great.
"When we've watched sports programs, I've always watched the underdog guy," Johnny Sr. said. "The guy who was small, he wasn't fast enough, he wasn't this, he wasn't that. So you always have to keep battling along, knocking out all those stereotypes. And that's how he gets his work ethic, and that's how he gets his drive."
Being an athlete never stopped Giavotella from doing well in school, or from putting in hours at Gio's Pizza and Spaghetti House, the restaurant owned by his aunt, Gail Posey. When there was work to be done, it got done.
"After [Hurricane] Katrina, he came back and he was digging fence posts and stuff," Posey said. "He's always worked, he's got a strong work ethic. He's very dedicated to whatever he does."
Johnny Sr. said he wasn't able to give Giavotella much help in school, so all of Gio's academic success in high school and college was of his own doing.
"When he went to high school, I can remember him playing football and him playing baseball and having to stay up after the game to study for finals for the following day. That's how tough it was," Johnny Sr. said. "When you're 15, 16, 17 years old, that's hard to do. So he's been tested."
Johnny Sr. noted that coming from a hard-working Italian family helped instill that desire and work ethic in Giavotella.
"It always came second nature to me," Johnny Sr. said. "I watched my father work, all my aunts and uncles work, my brothers and sisters work -- so Johnny sees work. To get something, you've got to get better than the guy next to you."
Most of the time, Giavotella has been better than the other guys. He hit .293 with a .370 on-base percentage in his first three years of professional baseball. Prior to joining the Royals on August 5, Giavotella was hitting .338 with a .390 on-base percentage at Triple-A Omaha.
Teaford roomed with Giavotella in Triple-A. The reliever was back and forth between Kansas City and Omaha a lot this summer, and Gio was always eager for some kind of advice when Teaford was back in town.
"When I would come up and down, he would always ask me -- and I wish I had a better answer -- 'What do I need to do to get up there? What kind of things do you see up there that I don't do?'" Teaford said. "And this is at 11:30 at night. I'm like, 'Dude, I'm ready to go to bed.' And this guy's still thinking of ways where he can better his game."
When Giavotella finally did make his big league debut, very little changed. In his first game as a Royal, he collected his first hit, a double down the right-field line. In his second game, he hit a single up the middle off Detroit ace Justin Verlander. Gio's third game featured his first Major League home run, which turned out to be the game-winner.
"Unbelievable. It was just a remarkable weekend," Johnny Sr. said. "Not many parents in Major League Baseball get to have a weekend, an opening day like the one we had. It was just a fabulous weekend."
It's been a little rougher for Gio since then. He's currently hitting .221 and getting on base at a .255 clip. Giavotella is in an 0-for-16 slump and was not in the lineup for the Royals' last two games.
"I tell him now ... 'Baby, if you never hit the ball again, you beat the odds,'" Posey said.
Johnny Sr. said his son's current trouble at the plate is no surprise.
"At every level with the wood bat, he had to make the adjustment," he said. "Follow Johnny all the way up, [Class A], Double-A, Triple-A, he always had a little down [period] to figure the game out. And once he figured it out, that was [it]."
Of course, that just means Giavotella will do what he's always done: keep working.
"I know what I need to work on," Giavotella said. "I did every day, to try and be the best player I can be."
Adam Holt is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.