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Adrian Gonzalez is worth getting to know

The Dodgers' first baseman, run out of Boston, might have trouble smiling, but he gives it his best shot.

September 15, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has the potential to become a star in Los Angeles ... if only he would smile more.
Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez has the potential to become a star… (Monica M. Davey / EPA )

Find the nearest wall, start talking to it, and now you understand what it's like spending time with Adrian Gonzalez.

Upon first meeting it can be a turn-off unless you are into one-way conversations, so we hit it off just fine Saturday afternoon sitting in the Dodgers dugout together.

But somewhere deep into my monologue a knowing smile crosses Gonzalez's face, a sign he's comfortable now and about to reveal himself.

"Take today," he says, raising an eyebrow, his idea of becoming animated. "I'm coming out of the hotel where we are staying and I give some kids autographs and pose for pictures.

"And my wife is telling me, 'Be nicer.'

"I wish I had it in me; I wish I could say to someone, 'How are you doing?' I try to force it, but it feels awkward, feels fake.

"I hear that from my wife every day when we run into a fan: 'Smile.' And the minute I see a fan I'm telling myself in my head, 'OK, now smile. Come on, you can do it.' "

He stops to demonstrate what one of his forced smiles looks like and it's not a pretty sight.

"What's going on in here," he says, pointing to his heart, "just doesn't come out. I love making kids happy; I just hope kids look at the autograph and go, 'Oh my God,' with excitement and don't notice the stone face that's giving it."

There is also no give in that stare when Gonzalez appears before the media, further undermining first impressions.

"People who really don't know me might say, 'He's really a jerk,'" he says. And who knew we had so much in common? "But I'm not trying to be that way."

The Dodgers have Gonzalez under contract for six more years beginning next season, so there's no doubt we're going to get to know him.

We already know he's most likely going to be an MVP candidate here every year.

"I should be because of the ability God has given me," he says.

We know he's wary of the media, time served in Boston doing that to a lot of athletes.

"I'm either going to give you the cookie-cutter answer or I'm going to give you the truth," he says. Fortunately for him, the media in Los Angeles are so much more loving. "You get the cookie-cutter answer when I don't want to answer a question because the truth might bring controversy."

And we know after spending time together the past couple of weeks he's more sensitive than he would probably want anyone to know.

"We're all human," he says. "And we're all going to try and please people."

Gonzalez hurt his shoulder before the All-Star break last season, but never let the media or fans in Boston know. He took a couple of painkilling shots, but as he lost strength in his shoulder, he also lost home-run power.

And yet there aren't many players capable of putting together the year Gonzalez had last season. But a .338 batting average, 27 home runs and 117 runs batted in were still not enough for Boston fans.

And it got to Gonzalez.

"Everybody was super mad the way we lost and things went down," he says. "Here I thought I had one of the best seasons ever, but because of what I said and because I didn't hit more home runs it wasn't like I had that good of a season. So I said, all right, I'm going to come into next year and hit more home runs. And it wrecked my swing.

"I felt like I disappointed everyone a little bit, so I was going to try and do what they wanted this season."

It was a crack in the stone face, Gonzalez taking to heart the expectation of rabid Red Sox fans looking for someone to blame after the team's September collapse.

He had already worked everyone into a stupefying lather when he said, "It wasn't in God's plan for us to be in the playoffs."

"A lot of the stuff in Boston came off the fact I had faith in God," he says now. "Ever since then, everything they wrote about me was negative."

So he shut down in interviews. "Short answers," as he says, while admitting he was "turned off by the reaction" to comments regarding God's plan.

Folks in Boston forgot how he arrived in a trade from San Diego as their savior, more than a dozen giddy reporters doing profiles on Gonzalez and hearing him always say the same thing: "God is No. 1, my family's No. 2 and baseball is No. 3.

"I live for God and try to glorify God in everything I do on the field," he told them, "And I try my hardest because I owe it to God and the fans."

But the only thing the Red Sox remembered was the sting of defeat in September, pegging Gonzalez as an excuse-maker when he failed to live up to their expectations.

He finished seventh in MVP voting.

As our dugout chat continues, he's so much more agreeable than initially letting on. He's funny as well, very technical in the way he views the game and examines every question asked, but obviously packed with the potential to become a star here.

If only he would smile more.

"Up until this point I've had the worst season of my life," he says, showing he is willing to criticize his own game. "I'm not talking statistically. I'm talking my swing; each and every day it is a fight."

If it's a fight, says Manager Don Mattingly, Gonzalez is winning. He reminds Gonzalez on Friday he still has 99 RBIs.

Make that 102 after a first-inning RBI on Saturday — 16 now in 20 games with the Dodgers, and he's supposedly struggling.

"I'm just getting started," he says.

Six more years with the guy, and don't let the stone face bother you.

Behind the mask there is so much more.

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