Luis Gonzalez may be out of the outfield after Sunday, but he will remain in the cornfield for weeks to come. Queen Creek residents Mark and Carrie Schnepf surprised the departing Arizona Diamondback outfielder with a 10-acre tribute crafted with gratitude, admiration, and lots and lots of corn.
To honor Gonzalez, who plays his final game Sunday at home against the San Diego Padres, the Schnepfs carved his likeness into a giant field of corn and revealed the surprise gift to him during a helicopter ride Friday morning.
“I look better in the thing than I do in person,” Gonzalez said after arriving at Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek with his wife, Christine, and their triplets, Megan, Jacob and Alyssa. “I’m overwhelmed.”
He said the cornfield image was especially thrilling because it got his young children excited, adding he is grateful to all of the fans who have expressed their appreciation in numerous ways during his final days with the Diamondbacks.
However, Gonzalez said even if he joins another major league team, he and his family will continue to reside in the Valley.
“We’re going to live here,” he said. “We love it here — this is home for us.”
The Schnepfs’ surprise also included radio disc jockey Dave Pratt, who broadcast his morning show live from Schnepf Farms for KMLE (107.9 FM). Pratt even had CNN talk show host Larry King on the phone to congratulate Gonzalez on his induction into a strange and exclusive club.
“You deserve it — and you deserve more of a career,” King said. “Keep it going.”
King was the first of four celebrities to be portrayed in corn by the Schnepfs, followed by Oprah Winfrey, Jay Leno and now Gonzalez.
“That’s pretty good company to be with,” Gonzalez said.
Since joining the team in 1999, the player affectionately known as Gonzo has become the face of the Diamondbacks franchise. He made the gamewinning hit in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series, and many consider him the team’s ambassador to the local community.
But in mid-September, Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes informed the 39-year-old that the team would decline a $10 million option to keep him for another season, saying he was shifting focus to up-and-coming younger players.
“I know it’s coming to an end,” Gonzalez said Friday, “but the fans and the support they’ve given to me and my family has just been awesome.”
No one but Gonzo can know exactly how it feels to be leaving the Diamondbacks after all he and the team have been through together, but fans who visit Schnepf Farms in the coming weeks will have a chance to get inside his head — literally.
That’s because the crop design, known as a “maize,” is an actual maze that visitors can walk through from one end to the other.
Family farms across the country have discovered they can attract more visitors by adding maizes to the usual menu of fall activities such as hayrides, pumpkin sales and apple-picking.
A maize takes nearly two months to grow and is usually designed with the help of a cornfield-maize specialty firm such as The MAiZE, based in Utah.
The process begins with a drawing, which is entered into a computer grid corresponding to stalks of corn in the field. The artists use a global positioning satellite to view their work from above while they mark the corn stalks to be removed using blue paint.
The painted stalks are then sprayed with weed killer when they are about 6 inches tall.
When the Schnepfs chose Gonzalez for this year’s maize, they had no idea it would be unveiled during his farewell weekend, Mark Schnepf said.
“Who would have really anticipated — because we certainly didn’t — that he’d be leaving Arizona?” he said.
See for yourself
What: Luis Gonzalez cornfield “maize”
When: Thursdays through Sundays, through Oct. 31
Where: Schnepf Farms, 24810 S. Rittenhouse Road, Queen Creek
Information: (480) 987-3100 or www.schnepffarms.com