‘Quiet’ is one word that says a lot about Gonzalez
FORT MYERS, Fla. - He is polite, aloof, and wildly talented. He is part Ted Williams, part Tim Tebow, and he doesn’t care what we think. He’s never going to get caught up in the noise of the Boston baseball experience.
He is Adrian Gonzalez, the sweet-swinging, soft-spoken, almost invisible star of the Red Sox.
Spring training 2012 thus far has been everything we thought it would be. The chicken-and-beer boys have been sufficiently contrite, the new manager has been fun and ubiquitous, the new GM has been working 24/7, the new ballpark is spectacular, and the owners dropped by to say hello on their way to Sunday’s big soccer game at Wembley. You’ve read feature stories about Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Meanwhile, Gonzo, the Quiet Man, has gone about his business without drawing any attention. That’s just the way he likes things.
When we last saw the flossy first baseman, he was sitting in a chair in the visitor’s clubhouse at Camden Yards, explaining that it was “God’s will’’ that the Red Sox did not make the playoffs. This didn’t play particularly well back home in the Nation.
Gonzalez doesn’t care.
“I’d say the same thing again,’’ he said in an almost empty Sox clubhouse Sunday afternoon. “It’s my opinion. Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion. If somebody thought it wasn’t the thing to say, that’s their opinion. I respect that. But it’s just the way I see things. I focus on God. He’s No. 1 in my life. He’ll always be. When something tragic happens in my life, I’m always going to turn to God.’’
Gonzalez enjoyed a spectacular first season in Boston. At the All-Star break, he was the front-runner to win the American League MVP Award. His power numbers drooped in the second half and his overall production suffered during Boston’s disastrous September. Gonzo finished at .338 with 27 homers, 117 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .410.
Despite those Teddy Ballgame numbers, he flew under the radar most of the season. Gonzalez makes little noise. By design, he’s a boring sound bite. The only time he said anything particularly interesting was when he complained about the Sox’ travel rigors and the number of Sunday night games Boston played.
“If you look at how that interview was presented to me, how the questions were asked, it was a whole different scenario,’’ he said. “The way it was written was the way it was written. I can’t control that. It was never a complaint. It was questions I was asked and I gave my opinion about it.’’
He said he loved his first year in Boston. The best part was the fans. The worst part was September. But he’s a believer in the Sox of 2012.
“We scored the most runs in baseball last year,’’ said Gonzalez. “I hope we can do it again this year and I’m confident we can. We got a great team. We’ve got some great guys in competition for the fifth spot in the rotation. We’ve got three guys I’ve faced before and know that they’re great pitchers. I know the great bullpen guys that we acquired. Our offense is going to be great again. We’ve got great defense across the board and I think we’re going to be better than last year. We’re not the same team, but I think we’re better.’’
Does he think the 2011 Sox were unfairly maligned?
“I can’t get into that,’’ he said. “I’ve got to focus on 2012. We’re looking at 2012 now. We’re not going to look back.’’
What about his diminished power in the second half?
“As a player, we never look at halves. We look at full season. My slugging percentage and on-base percentage are the two things that matter the most.’’
How does he like being anchored in the No. 3 spot in the batting order?
“It doesn’t matter.’’
Gonzalez grew up in San Diego and learned to hit from his dad and two older brothers. Daddy Gonzo preached the Ted Williams mantra, “Get a good pitch to hit,’’ adding, “make sure the ball’s up in the zone.’’
Adrian said he is comfortable with the pressure that comes with playing in a baseball-crazed market such as Boston.
“I love seeing fans,’’ he said. “I love running into fans and taking pictures and signing autographs. That’s part of what I was about growing up and I give that back to the fans. I love baseball and I love the fans.’’
What about the Boston media vs. the San Diego media?
“It doesn’t bother me at all,’’ he said. “Why should it? I’m here to play baseball. I’m not here to worry about what’s written. There is no adjustment. You just answer the questions. The response you guys give is your opinion. It’s not something I need to look into. If you’re honest, then you never have to worry about what anyone says. You’re just giving an honest opinion.’’
I mentioned that sometimes he presents as a guy who hates the media.
“I don’t hate you guys,’’ he said. “I’m here to play baseball. I know answering questions is part of the deal and that’s what I do. I’m not worried about it. If I got time for it, I got time for it. If I don’t, I don’t.’’
“I’m not going to change for anybody,’’ he added. “The only person I’ll ever change for is Jesus.’’
Does he care what anyone thinks of him?
“Yes, I care what Jesus thinks.’’
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.