Gonzalez will shoulder more of a load

Fully healthy and a year in Boston under his belt, he welcomes leadership mantle

Updated: February 16, 2012, 1:12 AM ET
ESPNBoston.com

Not only will first baseman Adrian Gonzalez begin Year 2 with the Boston Red Sox with a much healthier shoulder, but he also plans to take a more active leadership role after admittedly being more passive last season as a newcomer.

"I'm more of a leader by example, but I can be a guy that takes a guy to the side and talks to them," Gonzalez told ESPN Boston Radio's Adam Jones in an interview Wednesday. "I think I'm more of a mentor than a guy that will yell at the team, and try to hype the team up in that sense. I'll make sure everybody's comfortable and happy and things are going well so each individual player can play to their full potential."

Gonzalez acknowledged he didn't feel fully comfortable taking anyone under his wing last season, his first in Boston.

"Last year I came in to a team that had leaders in place and didn't want to step on anybody's toes," Gonzalez said.

This season, however, the Red Sox begin camp missing some voices who had been clubhouse staples. Manager Terry Francona is gone; captain Jason Varitek and 18-year veteran Tim Wakefield were not re-signed; and outspoken closer Jonathan Papelbon took his talents to Philly. For his part, Gonzalez said he "definitely" feels comfortable helping to fill that void.

"There were things that I saw and noticed [last season] that I'm not going to leave unaddressed if they need to be [addressed]," Gonzalez said. "With Bobby [Valentine] being our manager now, he's going to set a lot of ground rules for that, too."

Some pointed to a breakdown in leadership as one of the reasons for the team's 7-20 September collapse in 2011. Subsequent revelations that some pitchers were drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse on their off days seemed to add credence to the theory. Gonzalez thinks the problem was much simpler.

"We just didn't play good baseball," he said in a "SportsCenter" interview. "People have to eat, whether it's chicken or steak. ... More than anything, it was just the fact we didn't play good baseball. We didn't play good defense for our pitchers, we didn't get those timely hits that we needed to bring in that extra run. We didn't prevent enough runs. It was a team as a whole that failed. We look forward to erasing that and getting back into the playoffs."

Gonzalez expects a changed atmosphere under traditional hard-liner Valentine, whom he met with in Boston last week, and thinks the new culture will start in Fort Myers, Fla.

"One of the things I really like is that in spring training we're going to pay attention to a lot of details," Gonzalez said. "Not just doing things for the sake of doing them, but actually doing them to get something out of it. Spring training is going to be a little more lengthy. That's where it's going to start and it's going to go from there. Spring training is something that is really going to set the tone for the rest of the season, I think."

[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty ImagesThe Red Sox won't block out September's collapse, Adrian Gonzalez said, but intend to learn from it.

That tone-setting began this week, with Valentine acknowledging Wednesday there was some grumbling at his spring regimen.

"When I look at the program we devised, I don't think of it as tough. But it seems it's different because a lot of people are frowning. I just asked them to give (it) a few days," Valentine said, according to the Boston Globe.

Gonzalez is looking forward to the fresh start in more ways than one. At this time last season, he reported to his first spring training with the Red Sox coming off surgery on his right shoulder and didn't start swinging a bat until late February. After a productive first half, Gonzalez saw his power numbers dip after the All-Star break as the shoulder began to fatigue.

"I had different things going on with the shoulder going into the second half," Gonzalez said. "It definitely had an effect. I'm not a person that will say that's the reason, because I was on the field and still playing."

This offseason, Gonzalez focused on building up the endurance in the shoulder and pronounced it "100 percent healthy" as he prepares to head to spring training.

"There isn't any issue in any part of my body right now," Gonzalez said.

But there's still the memory of the way last season ended. Gonzalez is eager to start a new chapter, but said the collapse is something the Red Sox intend to learn from.

"It was devastating the way it went down," Gonzalez said. "It's something that we'll keep in mind throughout the season. It's not going to go away once the season starts. We're going to keep that as a focus and move forward from it, try to grow from it. ...

"It's something that will not be forgotten. We owe it to the fans to give them a better ending."

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