Adrian Gonzalez rediscovers smile in L.A.
September, 11, 2012
By Enrique Rojas, ESPNDeportesLosAngeles.com
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
SAN FRANCISCO -- Adrian Gonzalez does not want to talk about the past, but he doesn’t need to. His smile reveals his rediscovered joy of playing baseball.
It was a joy he had in Texas and San Diego during the first seven years of his career, but suddenly disappeared during the final months of his short stay with the Boston Red Sox.
“It has been two incredible weeks,” the Dodgers’ new star told ESPNdeportesLosAngeles.com at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. “The team has been phenomenal, the players have treated me very well, the coaches have been spectacular and the fans have welcomed me with open arms.”
Despite his .242 average (15-for-62) with five extra-base hits in his first 15 games with the Dodgers, Gonzalez said the “adventure has been a lot of fun for me.”
The Mexican-American first baseman arrived in Los Angeles with outfielder Carl Crawford, pitcher Josh Beckett and backup Nick Punto in a blockbuster nine-player trade Aug. 25 that added approximately $260 million in future salaries for the Dodgers.
Gonzalez returned to Southern California just 18 months and 282 games after being traded by the Padres to Boston amid great fanfare and after signing a seven-year, $154 million contract extension, the biggest deal in history for a Mexican baseball player. He was an All-Star, an MVP candidate and a Gold Glove winner in his debut year with the Red Sox in 2011.
“In Boston, there’s always a soap opera. They never talk about baseball; it’s always the same,” Gonzalez told ESPNdeportesLosAngeles.com at Boston’s Fenway Park a couple of days before being sent to L.A. "It’s one of the reasons why I don’t speak much to the press here. They rarely ask me about baseball. Most of the time it’s about gossip, rumors, intrigue -- in other words, a soap opera.”
Now Gonzalez, who was born in San Diego but raised in Tijuana, prefers to talk about the present and the future.
“Los Angeles is very close to where I grew up, the same people who have always supported me,” he said. “Close to home, a lot of Mexican food, and these are my roots.”
The comfort felt by Gonzalez and other players acquired by the Dodgers during the season has not necessarily translated into an improvement of the team, which began the week 5 1/2 games behind in the NL West after losing two out of three to the division-leading Giants over the weekend.
The Dodgers have lost nine of their past 14 games and have a 27-27 record in the second half of the season, not at all impressive for a candidate to reach the postseason.
After being shut out Sunday by lefty Barry Zito and five relievers, earning a wild-card spot is likely the only real hope for the Dodgers to play in the postseason. Starting Thursday, they host a four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, who hold a 1 1/2-game lead in the battle for the second NL wild card.
“The goal is to win the division, but if we win the wild card, then it’ll be the wild card,” Gonzalez said. “We all want the division in order to avoid that sudden-death game. The important thing is to start winning games.”
To do that, the Dodgers will need to become more productive on offense, starting with Gonzalez, who hits in the heart of the lineup. Ever since the arrival of the player nicknamed "El Titán," the Dodgers' batting average is close to .250, and they have scored three runs or fewer in 10 out of 15 games.
Beside the difficulties with getting the big hits at the right moment, the Dodgers played the past two games in San Francisco without superstar center fielder Matt Kemp, who is dealing with left shoulder problems.
The Dodgers have a 26-30 record without Kemp on the field and are 48-37 when he’s in the lineup. The most optimistic timetable has Kemp returning for the series against the Cardinals.
“It’s hard to understand what’s behind our not playing so well. The pitching has worked, but we have not been hitting,” Gonzalez said. “The timely hits have not arrived. It’s a matter of getting one or two of them and then things will return to normal.”