By John Philip Wyllie
As a new player vying for a spot on the Padres 40-man roster Adrian Gonzalez was taking a big chance by missing much of spring training to represent Mexico in the recently completed inaugural World Baseball Classic. But it was something he just had to do.
“Being able to play for your country is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Gonzalez who was born in San Ysidro and grew up on the playing fields of Tijuana and Chula Vista. “You don’t know if it is going to come around again another time. It would have hurt me not making the team here, but (had he not) I knew I could have gone back to Triple-A, played hard and eventually made my way back here. I had to take that chance to get an opportunity to play for Mexico. It worked out the best that it could have, so I was happy I made that decision. I was lucky to be able to get the best of both worlds.”
Ironically, Gonzalez ended up contributing to Mexico’s second round victory that eliminated the U.S. and current teammate Jake Peavy from the tournament. With Mexico also eliminated in the second round, Gonzalez was free to channel his energy into winning a spot with his hometown Padres. An injury to Padres incumbent first baseman Ryan Klesko opened the door for him and Gonzalez came storming through it like a runaway freight train.
Prior to his arrival in San Diego the scuttlebutt on the 23-year old Gonzalez was that he was a terrific defensive first baseman, but a so-so hitter. Gonzalez appears on a mission to once and for all put that good glove no hit talk to rest. In spring training he hit .389 with two home runs and seven doubles in just 10 starts. In the first two games of the regular season he has done even better. The former number one draft choice is leading the team with an eye-popping .625 average, one home run two doubles and eight hits. Gonzalez has been the most pleasant surprise of this young season, but he does not appear surprised at all.
“I don’t know how that (talk) came about. Throughout my whole career I have always done pretty well offensively. I guess it is because in the Major League (with Texas where he batted .227) I didn’t do that well, but I didn’t have every day at bats. If I get the opportunity I think I will do all right. I was able to hit .340 in Triple A. It is just a question of getting everyday repetition. The bat will come through if I feel comfortable.”
Gonzalez is already feeling much more than comfortable in his new surroundings. He is living a long held dream. More than 40 close friends and family members where on hand Monday night to be part of it.
“(The home opener) was just an unbelievable (experience),” Gonzalez said. “Going out there and playing the type of game that we did and getting a couple of hits myself made it a great day. The whole atmosphere and everything about it was what you dream about when you are a kid. I didn’t just want to play in the Major League, I wanted to play for the Padres.”