Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez gets ready in the on-deck circle… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Adrian Gonzalez will start his off-season conditioning program in a couple of weeks in his hometown of San Diego. But the Dodgers' new first baseman won't touch a bat for a while.
"I'll definitely take time off hitting-wise to let all those bad habits get away from me," he said. "If I start hitting too soon, they'll never go away."
"Start off fresh," he said. "Do it slow, and do it right."
This was a frustrating season for the four-time All-Star, and not only because the Dodgers failed to reach the playoffs.
From a statistical standpoint, Gonzalez had a perfectly respectable season, batting .299 with 18 home runs and 108 runs batted in. He finished the season with a 15-game hitting streak, the longest of any Dodgers player this season.
But his swing never felt right.
"There always seems to be a piece missing," he said. "Sometimes I'm not behind the ball. Sometimes I'm not through it. It doesn't all flow. When the pieces are there, my timing's not right."
Gonzalez had a career-best 47 doubles, but he saw that as a troubling sign.
"That means most of my balls are topspun," he said. "So instead of going over the fence with backspin, they're topspinning into the gap. It means I'm pulling off the ball. It's definitely something I have to work on in the off-season."
Asked why that happened, Gonzalez responded without any hesitation: "Trying too hard."
That wasn't a problem in 2010, his last season with the San Diego Padres, when he hit 31 home runs with a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery in the winter. Nor was it a problem last season, when he reinjured the same shoulder but still hit 27 home runs for the Boston Red Sox.
"I was able to hit because I had no expectations for myself," he explained. "I was like, 'Hey, I'm banged up. Let me do the best I can.'"
Feeling completely healthy for the first time in years, Gonzalez found himself over-thinking this season.
"This year, because I'm healthy, I'm like, 'OK, now I should be able do this and do that, try this and try that,'" he said. "Before I know it, I'm up there trying to make things happen. This game is not one in which you make things happen. You have to let things happen."
As frustrated as he was at times, he looked back fondly at his seven-plus weeks with the Dodgers after his trade from the Red Sox.
"It really is the perfect situation for me, with the team we have moving forward, the city, the people, the geography," Gonzalez said. "There's not one thing I see in this situation that's a negative. It really is somewhere where I would want to finish my career."
Gonzalez is under contract for six more seasons at $127 million. When his deal expires, he will be 36.
He wasn't surprised by how he took to the city. When he was in high school, he often came up from his hometown of San Diego to play in tournaments in the Los Angeles area.
"We would get in the car with my friends and drive around all of L.A.," he said. "I know the streets. I know how to get here and there. I know where the taco stands are at night."
Turning serious, Gonzalez talked about the responsibility he feels being a Mexican American player in a heavily Latino city.
"How do I put it?" he said. "It's your people, you know? It's the people you relate to. Of course, I want to do great for them."
Gonzalez quickly corrected himself, saying he wanted to do well for all fans, regardless of their background. Perhaps, he said, he could become a unifying figure in what is sometimes viewed as a culturally fragmented city.
"It's definitely something that's in my mind," he said. "I want to do a lot of things."
But he intends to be more than a role model in the community. He wants to be one in the clubhouse as well, even though he's admittedly soft-spoken.
He said it's something he and his teammates have already talked about.
"About being the group that we can be and being an example for everybody else," he said. "We're going to show up every day; we're going to play hard; we're going to leave it all out there."