BOSTON -- While general manager Ben Cherington continues to prepare the Boston Red Sox for the 2012 season and beyond, the club's slugging first baseman, Adrian Gonzalez, has been doing the same on and off the field.
After having surgery on his right shoulder in October 2010 and experiencing shoulder fatigue late last season, Gonzalez is ahead of his normal offseason schedule this winter and has already begun his hitting program.
Gonzalez won a Silver Slugger award and a Gold Glove, and was an All-Star selection in his first season with the Red Sox. He hit .338 with 27 homers and 117 RBIs, but admitted in September that his surgically repaired shoulder was bothering him.
So this offseason, he's taking the necessary steps to ensure that doesn't happen again.
"I usually don't swing all that much in the offseason. This year I do plan on swinging a little bit more, just to build up that endurance," Gonzalez told ESPNBoston.com during a phone interview on Monday.
"My shoulder is feeling really good. I've been doing a lot of shoulder exercises, trying to build up my endurance. I'm making sure I get a lot of repetitions for my shoulder, so the fatigue factor doesn't set in. My upper body feels great and I've been really working out. I've been hitting, but not too much. I plan on hitting more come January."
For the second consecutive offseason, Gonzalez has been busy helping his family run the Gonzalez Sports Academy in his hometown of San Diego. Along with his brothers David and Edgar, Gonzalez wanted to create a learning atmosphere to help athletes of all ages compete at each individual's highest level possible.
"We didn't work out like this when we were young," Gonzalez said. "We worked out a lot and at a lot of different places, but when you're 10 to 18 years old, you really don't know how to work out correctly.
"When we got into professional baseball and we started going to these places, it's a whole different level and a whole different mindset. It's a different style of working out than just going to the gym, so if we can give that opportunity to a 12-year-old kid, by the time they get to 18 and in a position to get drafted or go to college, they're going to be ahead of the competition."
Gonzalez's goal isn't solely based on helping young athletes succeed in sports. At the sports academy, there's a strong concentration on academics as well.
"The kids' education is a huge part of their success, trying to get into college and going forward," he said. "Training a kid and getting them athletically correct and getting them to the next level is important, but if their grades aren't up to date they're going to end up in a junior college, so we want to make sure they end up at a four-year university with a chance to go forward and have a future, both at the school level and in sports."
Gonzalez is proud of what the academy has been able to accomplish for young student-athletes in less than two years. He hopes that will continue and has plans to expand the facility and the company in the future.
Gonzalez is genuine about his business venture, but he's passionate about his personal career and wants to win a World Series with the Red Sox.
Gonzalez has been keeping close tabs on the organization's offseason moves, and so far he's pleased with the decisions, especially knowing that David Ortiz will be back for 2012 and maybe beyond.
"Papi's unbelievable," Gonzalez said. "I was really hoping he would come back to the team and I'm glad he did because he's one of the guys that I really enjoy being around and getting to know. We talk a lot about hitting and facing pitchers, so I thought we really fed off of each other. We're a great complement to each other, both being left-handed and facing pitchers very similarly. That was huge for me, especially in my first year in the American League, to get to hear his input on everything.
"Hopefully he does sign a long-term deal. He's definitely the best DH in the game and he brings a lot to the team, not just offensively and the numbers he puts up, but his energy and his clubhouse presence, everything he does, especially for the city of Boston. He's a guy who should finish his career in Boston and I'm sure he would love to do that."
"They've been good," Gonzalez said of the offseason transactions. "I really like [Melancon]. It's sad to see Jed [Lowrie] go because he's a really good utility player, but I think it'll be better for him to get more at-bats in Houston. Melancon had some good numbers last year. In the past he had some issues with control, but he figured that out last year. He'll be a good addition to our bullpen.
"I know [Cherington] is still looking at one or two more pitchers and I know he'll get the job done just to have the depth and finish it out. There are a lot of options with Bard and [Alfredo] Aceves too, to start, to relieve or close. I'm sure all of that will get ironed out in spring training and we'll have all the roles correct. It's looking good."
When the Red Sox named Bobby Valentine manager, he said he would reach out to each player individually before spring training. He's already covered a lot of ground and recently had a brief conversation with Gonzalez.
"I'm excited about it and I liked the conversation I had with Bobby Valentine," Gonzalez said. "He's excited about the season and I'm sure he's going to bring in great energy and great leadership ability for us. Everything's looking good."
Valentine told Gonzalez the two would talk again after the holidays because the manager would like to sit down face-to-face with his first baseman.
"From what I've heard, he's excited about it and so are we," Gonzalez said of the managerial change. "He's a guy everybody is going to respect and really feed off. I hear nothing but the best about his baseball knowledge and his ability to manage a game. I know he's going to do a great job.
"We have a really talented team and all we need is somebody to manage us correctly and just be there for us. Tito did a great job with that and I'm looking forward to Bobby doing just as good of a job, if not better."
We already know Valentine is a big fan of Gonzalez.
When the Texas Rangers hosted the Red Sox on Opening Day last season, Valentine served as the analyst for the ESPN broadcast. During the game, Valentine continually praised Gonzalez for his offense and defense.
"He shows me a lot of intelligence," Valentine said during the broadcast. "He's an immortal hitter."
Valentine even compared Gonzalez's hitting prowess to that of Ted Williams from a run-production standpoint. Williams, at age 30, drove in a career-best 159 runs during the 1949 season.
Gonzalez, who will turn 30 on May 8, had 117 RBIs last season, two shy of his career best.
"I think a lot of people in Boston are going to have memories of Ted after they see [Adrian] with 200 to 300 at-bats," Valentine said during that broadcast on April 1 at Texas. "Look out, Hack Wilson."
Wilson drove in a record 191 runs for the Chicago Cubs in 1930.
"It'll be fun to play against him again," Gonzalez said. "The All-Star Game is going to be fun to see, who out of the first basemen make it each and every year moving forward. I'm just hoping Prince [Fielder] stays in the National League now."
Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.