By John Philip Wyllie
It is hard to believe in view of what has happened, but two seasons ago Padres MVP first baseman Adrian Gonzalez was not only, not a star, he wasn’t even a starter. Beset by nagging injuries and mired behind Texas All-Star first baseman Mark Teixeira on the Rangers bench, the former MLB first overall pick seemed headed nowhere fast. Then on December 20, 2005 the Rangers and Padres made a trade. In retrospect, it was more like an early Christmas present for the Friars. Gonzalez, pitcher Chris Young and outfielder Termel Sledge were acquired for oft-injured Adam Eaton (current ERA 5.63) reliever Akinori Otsuka (ERA 1.88, but only 28.2 innings pitched) and minor league catcher Billy Killian.
Sledge has been decent. Young has been nothing short of brilliant, but Gonzalez has become the face of the Padres franchise. Not bad for a guy who played his high school baseball at Eastlake High and spent time learning the nuts and bolts of the game on both sides of the border.
Gonzalez currently leads the Padres in virtually every offensive category including batting average (.286), hits (85), home runs (14), doubles (21), slugging percentage (.512) and RBIs (51). And as good as he is with a bat, Gonzalez is even better with a glove.
Despite his new found star status, Gonzalez remains the same soft-spoken, humble hard-working guy that he always was. Clearly, he hasn’t forgotten his roots. During the Padres off-seasons he has continued to play winter ball in Mexico. While wintering with Los Venados de Mazatlan, this born-again Christian has taken the time to spread the Gospel.
On this side of the border, Gonzalez has made several public appearances in the largely Hispanic communities of the South Bay, but for whatever reason he has not been asked to make as many public appearances as you might expect.
“I have been to several schools in the county’s Hispanic areas and I have made a couple of appearances in Chula Vista and San Ysidro down by the border. It comes down to getting a request first. I can’t just show up at some place,” he said.
Gonzalez has also dropped in on his alma mater on occasion to lend a hand to the kids who are playing for the same Titan team that he was starring on seven years ago.
“I keep in touch with (former EHS coach) Dave Gonzalez (now an assistant at Southwestern College) and Eastlake. I try to get out there, but the schedule during the season is really tough. I like to get out there to say hi to my (former) teachers. Actually, we just finished filming a commercial there.”
“He took us on a tour of the clubhouse one time and spent a lot of time answering our questions,” said Eastlake shortstop, Hector Lorenzana, a player with big league aspirations. “Knowing that he came from here and seeing the success that he has had shows us what might be possible.”