Ever since last week when it was announced that the Padres and Red Sox had come to an agreement to trade all-star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez for four minor league prospects, I've been asked countless times by fellow Bostonians for my Peter Gammons like analysis of the trade. As many of you know, I live a few miles outside Boston, and even though the weather outside is around 20 degrees and there is snow on the ground, Red Sox fever is as alive as ever. The thing I've found surprising is that even though people around here know so much about baseball, many don't know as much about Adrian as they probably should. I guess it makes sense being that Padres games don't start until after 10 PM east coast time, and many people have retired to bed by that time, preparing to beat the early morning traffic. Living on the west coast for the past five years, you forget how big a part the time difference actually plays when it comes to watching west coast sports. I figured since I've been asked a couple million times to talk about the deal I would take a day and go through it here.
The biggest question I've been asked by Red Sox fans since the trade is, "Do you think Gonzalez is worth the $150 million." My reply has always been, "if any hitter in the league is worth that much dinero, he definitely is." I don't know if I can think of anything Adrian doesn't bring to the table with regards to both his baseball ability and intangibles. He is a gold glove defender, maybe the best defensive first baseman in the league. He hits, hits for power, hits for average, drives in runs, hits doubles, hits home runs, gets on base, walks a ton, and does it all while playing in one of the toughest ballparks for a hitter in the league. He is a great clubhouse guy. He is a team player, wants to win, is humble, a leader, and great in the community. I don't know if there is a single thing the guy doesn't do. I guess he doesn't steal bases, but if you need that just go out and grab a guy like Carl Crawford...oo wait, never mind.
Although I have only been able to play with him for three Spring Trainings and a small sample of Major League games, I have still been able to learn a lot from him. Without acting like that Kevin Bacon super fan on the Google TV commercial, I've tried to listen and learn from him as much as I could. Two things stick out in my mind when I think about what I've learned over the past few years.
The first thing is his approach to practice and his pursuit to be one of the games best players. Being infielders, we would spend a lot of time in the batting cages at the same time during Spring Training. Everyone knows that Gonzo is one of the best in the game at using the entire field. He has an unbelievable ability to take an outside pitch, and even a pitch that is off the plate, and drive it to left field for a double or home run. Many people may think this just comes naturally, but I know from watching him that he works tirelessly on this skill. From the first swing in the batting cage he puts a ball on a tee low and outside and hits ball after ball to left field. The crazy part is he rarely doesn't hit the ball exactly where he wants. It is pretty impressive to watch.
He takes this approach from tee work, to soft toss, to batting practice. If he wanted to he could come to the plate during BP and hit home run after home run 450 feet into the right field bleachers. I know if I had his power and ability I would. I'd also stare at the ball until it hit the stands, take a small walk around the batting cage to make sure everyone knew it was me that hit it, maybe take a slight bow or two, and then return to repeat the process. But that's besides the point. Instead, he works on hitting line drives to left field, over and over and over again. He isn't worried about what he looks like doing it. He doesn't need to show everyone the light tower power that he possesses. He is doing what he thinks is going to make him a great ballplayer, and what is ultimately going to help him be successful once game time rolls around. Pretty impressive.
The second thing I've learned is why he makes the hard plays look so easy. The biggest thing I've realized is he is not afraid to make a mistake, or mess up in practice, or even look stupid while doing it. We were on the practice field one day working on taking ground balls and short pop flies. During the pop fly drills he would start on the infield grass and chase pop flies down the right field line. These plays were hard, and he made them even harder by starting way in on the grass and having to run as hard as he could down the line while attempting to make an over the shoulder catch up against the practice fence. When it was my turn to go I stood in my normal position towards the outfield grass. As the pop up shot up in the air I was in good position to take a few steps backwards and make the easy catch as the ball practically landed exactly where I started.
After I made the catch he looked over and told me to move in on the grass so the drill wasn't so easy. Anybody could catch an easy pop up right at them, but the great players can make the tough over the head play into short right field. Where as I was just trying to make sure I made the easy catch, he was challenging himself to make the drill as tough as possible, not afraid if he didn't make the catch, or dropped a tough play. He wasn't afraid to mess up, and I was working on something so easy that I wouldn't screw it up. Although it's a little different when one is a seven year veteran who's job is already locked up, and the other is a minor league scrub just trying to make as little mistakes as possible in chance of making the team, but his statement really made a ton of sense and I'm glad he brought it up. It really made me adjustment the way I was practicing. Just a small example of how he makes his teammates better.
Anyways, there are a lot of other things I could talk about, but the blog post would go on forever and most people would flip over to Facebook to see some one's status update yelling at a former boyfriend that they don't need them anymore and their life is wonderful now that they are gone, all while crying into their pillow. I hope everyone has a great weekend and I'll talk to you later.
P.S. This is for all my Jets fans. Sorry about that.