A-Gone having fun leads to personal success
Veteran first baseman plays game unconcerned with numbers
SAN FRANCISCO -- Adrian Gonzalez is enjoying the first quarter of what could be a career season. Having turned 33 two weeks ago, the Dodgers' graceful, durable first baseman appreciates his good fortune and how it came to pass. His secret? Stop creating stress by trying to impress.
"I feel great," Gonzalez said before Wednesday night's game against Tim Lincecum and the Giants.
"I guess I'm in my prime, where I can enjoy this and not put any pressure on myself. I just have to stay true to my routine, keep healthy and strong, and enjoy every minute. I'm not trying to prove anything to anybody. There's the classic example of the guy who wants to do too much and does nothing. They're so worried about the numbers on the scoreboard they can't play free."
The journey began 15 years ago when Gonzalez was 18 in the Gulf Coast League, the Marlins having selected him with the first choice in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif.
"It goes back to how I learned to cope early in my career," Gonzalez said. "After I was drafted first overall, my first two months in rookie ball, I was struggling. My dad came to see me in Melbourne, Florida. He watched me and said, `That's not you out there. You're not having fun. You're the kind of guy who smiles more on the baseball field than off the field.'
"It kind of got me back to understanding that you have to have fun to be at your best."
Gonzalez was traded twice -- Marlins to Rangers, Rangers to Padres -- before it all came together in San Diego in 2006 with Bruce Bochy as his manager. The Padres claimed the National League West, their young first baseman hitting .304 with 24 homers. He's been among the game's elite players ever since, on both coasts with the Red Sox and Dodgers.
"I've been blessed to play for some great managers," Gonzalez said. "I also learned a lot from managers in the Minor Leagues. I've always been a free-and-easy guy. Some people will say I'm too free and easy."
Carrying only 185 pounds when he was drafted, he gradually filled out to his natural weight and started driving balls deeper.
"The Marlins drafted me as a hitter," he said. "It took me awhile to grow into my body. I had 17 home runs my first full [Minor League] season and 17 my second year before having wrist surgery my third year."
Averaging 29 homers per 162 games in his career with a .293/.366/.503 slash line, Gonzalez has drawn Most Valuable Player Award votes in seven of the past eight seasons. A four-time All-Star, he owns four Gold Glove Awards.
Gonzalez came into the matchup with Lincecum ranked second in the NL in average (.355), slugging (.672) and hits (49); tied for third in RBIs (32) and runs scored (29); first in doubles (17) and seventh in homers (nine).
Pressure? Gonzalez is hitting .448 with runners in scoring position, in keeping with his .331 career average and .989 OPS in 1,453 at-bats with men on second and/or third.
It all goes back to his philosophy of "letting the uncontrollable be controlled."
Gonzalez's explanation: "In a sense, I minimize the situation, kind of look for the easy way out. If a runner's on third with less than two outs, I'm trying to get him in with a sac fly or an out. If a guy's on second with none out, I'm pulling it 95 percent of the time. I don't try to do too much.
"There's always that person who says you've got to play like it's life or death. To me, it's a game and I'm blessed to play it. I'm going to treat it like a backyard game when I was 10 years old back in Chula Vista."
An iron man, Gonzalez has played between 156 and 162 games for nine consecutive seasons. He has missed only three starts this season -- not that it was his idea.
"God made my body with the ability to recover quick," Gonzalez said. "I've played through quad strains, hamstring strains, groin strains. I've played through injuries that maybe a shortstop or outfield couldn't play through. My position allows me to do that. I don't need my legs except to stand in the box and swing.
"I'll hit a ground ball and people might say, 'Oh, why isn't he hustling?' Maybe I'm hurt. I'm already slow, so if I'm hurt, I'll look even slower."
Gonzalez doesn't need five tools to be great. The four he has are doing the job nicely.