There were stormy days in Boston when the Red Sox were outbid in the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes three and a half years ago. Sox bosses John Henry and Larry Lucchino visited the free agent slugger's home during the offseason, then said they felt deceived and used by Teixeira and agent, Scott Boras. The Boston brass was ripped and ridiculed when Teixeira wound up with the Yankees. It got worse when the Yankees went on to win the 2008 World Series.
Here we are in the early part of the 2011 season and Boston fans are suddenly OK with the guy they have at first base. After playing in all of Boston's 46 games, Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .342 with nine homers and a MLB-best 41 RBIs. He poses a threat to win baseball's first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski turned the trick in the magical summer of 1967. At Fenway, Gonzalez might be a better fit than Teixeira.
The Sox picked up Gonzo when they parted with their two best prospects (Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo) last winter and Boston fans have fallen in love with their new first baseman. He's the best Boston defensive first baseman since George Scott (though Gonzalez has the advantage of being left-handed) and his at bats have become must-see TV for Red Sox Nation.
Fans can't get enough of Yo Adrian's sweet left-handed stroke.
Gonzalez thinks fastball on every pitch, has velvet hands and is able to wait the extra split-second and go the other way. His left-center field power is perfectly suited for Fenway's Green Monster. Fans were a little worried when he hit only one homer in Boston's first 28 games, but he broke out with eight bombs over the next two weeks, including two homers when the Sox swept the Yankees in the Bronx.
He is 29, just coming into the prime of his career. He managed to average 32 homers a year, playing half of his games in the canyon of Petco Park over the last five seasons. Surrounded by the talent in the Red Sox lineup, hitting at Fenway, Gonzalez figures to only get better. David Ortiz says he's stopped watching video -- he simply asks Gonzalez. Sox hitting coach Dave Magadan compared Gonzo to Edgar Martinez.
Never mind, Edgar. How about Ted Williams?
Like the greatest Red Sox player of all time, Gonzalez is Mexican-American, bats left and grew up in San Diego. As a kid, Gonzo played a few travel team games at Ted Williams Field at Herbert Hoover High. Gonzalez' dad, David, was a slugging first baseman in Mexico's amateur leagues and told young Adrian about the great Teddy Ballgame.
"My dad always said, 'make sure you get a good pitch to hit -- a pitch up in the zone that you can drive,''' says Gonzalez.
That, of course, is the main message to Ted Williams' hitting manifesto, The Science of Hitting. Red Sox GM Theo Epstein issues Williams' book to all Sox minor leaguers. Gonzalez has learned to live by Ted's creed of hitting.
"He has great eyes and hands and a great natural swing,'' says Epstein, who scouted Gonzalez when Gonzo was a high school senior at Eastlake High in Chula Vista in 2000 (Theo was working for the Padres at the time). "He really is a thinking man's hitter. He spends so much time breaking down the opposing pitcher. He watched a ton of video on similar-type hitters and how those pitchers have approached him ... He loads so well. His swing is naturally inside-out. He keeps the bat head back through the zone and stays inside the ball. He's got great recognition skills and he can wait a little bit longer.''
"I make sure I let the ball get deep,'' says Gonzalez. "I work on that.''
The 2011 Red Sox were touted as a 100-win team and the Boston Herald declared them "Best Team Ever" before a game was played. Then they started 0-6 and 2-10 and fell to the bottom of the American League League.
Fortunately, nobody took control of the division and now the Sox are white hot, having won eight of nine going into this week's showdown with the surprising Indians in Cleveland. Boston is only a half-game out of first place in the American League East.
"I always have faith in my team,'' Gonzalez said after a four-hit game in last Friday's Fenway rout of the Cubs. "Look at our roster and the talent we have. I believe this is one of the best teams in the league. You can never lose your cool. You'll never see me do that.''
Through the good times and bad, Gonzalez has been the one constant for Red Sox manager Terry Francona. He's a legitimate MVP candidate. And he's under contract through the 2018 season.
No one in Boston is complaining about the Yankees having Teixeira. Sox fans like the guy they have at first base.