Tuesday, March 8, 2011 Updated: March 9, 8:23 AM ET
Learning from the master
By Gordon Edes ESPNBoston.com
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- This being his second camp with the Red Sox, shortstop Jose Iglesias no longer rates as a mystery to his teammates. They've seen his quick hands, they hear how much better his English is, they've watched how effortlessly the 21-year-old Cuban defector has made himself at home.
Some have even met his father, Candelario, who has left his native Cuba to live year-round with his son, and have seen iPhone pictures of Jose Iglesias Jr., the shortstop's month-old son who is currently in Miami with his mother but is expected here later this week.
But for new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, this is his first exposure to Iglesias. He likes what he sees, so much so that he has made a point of spending as much time as possible with a player projected to arrive in Boston by 2012, if not sooner.
"He's a smart kid, man," Gonzalez said Tuesday. "He works hard. He's always talking to me about hitting, about defense. That's why I go and hang out with him a lot. He wants to learn. You can see it, so it makes you want to go spend some time during batting practice with him.
Adrian Gonzalez's advice to flashy young shortstop Jose Iglesias Jr.? "I told him, when you take 50 ground balls, take two and be fancy, but with the other 48 just do them right."
"I talk with him, work on some things. If someone wants to learn, I'll be there for him. Whenever he has a question, he feels comfortable enough to ask it."
There has been no shortage of veterans willing to work with Iglesias, as ESPNBoston's Joe McDonald chronicled here. Shortstop Marco Scutaro, whose contract expires after this season (mutual option for 2012), worked out with Iglesias last summer. Dustin Pedroia has spent time with his future double-play partner. David Ortiz has offered counsel.
But it is clear that Gonzalez has taken a keen interest, for which Iglesias is deeply appreciative.
"Adrian, he has great experience," Iglesias said. "He is a great hitter. We talk about hitting, how to recognize the zone, recognize pitches, the swing.
"We talk about everything. About baseball. About being humble in this game. Make it simple. At home plate, be quiet, calm down a little bit. He teaches me a lot. He's a very good person and he's a great player."
In his first spring with the Sox, Gonzalez said he has yet to socialize a great deal with his new teammates. He and his wife, Betsy, have gone out a couple of times with J.D. Drew and his wife, Sheigh, but Betsy is taking extension courses this spring that will assist her in the running of the couple's charitable foundation, so the couple have been spending much of their time at home. Plus, Gonzalez said, they're still in the getting-acquainted period. "It's hard to just walk up to someone and say, 'Hey, you want to go out?'" Gonzalez said.
But at the ballpark, the connections come easier, and Gonzalez seems to relish his mentoring of Iglesias.
"He's very talented," Gonzalez said. "I feel like when he learns to slow the game down and not try to do things real fast -- and at his age, everybody tries to do things real fast -- when you learn to slow the game down, that's when you really start learning to play the game the right way.
"But he's going to be a very good player. He wants to learn," said Gonzalez. "You can tell he's hungry to get better every day and he listens, so it's a good combination."
Gonzalez elaborated on what he meant by "slowing the game down."
"Right now, on the routine ball, he tries to catch it, transfer it and throw it at the same time," he said. "Slowing down means catch the ball first, transfer second, set your feet and throw third. He tries to do all three things at once, and that creates errors on routine balls.
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"I haven't seen it much yet, but from what I hear he can make the unbelievable play, but he struggles at times with the routine ball. That's when you try to look real good instead of just making the play. I used to be the same exact way. My errors started going down when I slowed down."
With Iglesias, Gonzalez said, he doesn't have to be fast to look good.
"I told him, when you take 50 ground balls, take two and be fancy, but with the other 48 just do them right, instead of splitting them 50-50."
Iglesias acknowledged that he has received that message and is trying to heed it.
"This year I come hungry to learn, but more quiet, not too crazy, quiet and learn better," said Iglesias, who remains outgoing while showing no fear of employing a language, English, that is self-taught, picked up from watching TV and being around his teammates.
"I don't speak well," he said, "but I'm not afraid to talk. If I make a mistake, I feel great because I tried my best. The fans appreciate my effort, not my English."
The likelihood is that they will come to appreciate both.
"A big, big, big difference for me," he says of beginning his second season here. "Last year I was playing well, but I felt more pressure on myself. I was a little lost -- what am I doing, where do I have to go, I don't know what my team is like, I don't know nothing about the organization."
All of that has changed, and now he has a new ally: Adrian Gonzalez.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.