Adrian Gonzalez was born on May 8, 1982, in San Diego, California. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His parents, Alba and David, knew baseball. In fact, Adrian’s father had been quite a ballplayer in his time, having starred for the Mexican National team in the late 1970s. He passed his talent and love for the game to his three sons, Adrian, David Jr. and Edgar. Adrian was the baby brother. The family motto was: “We know two things—air conditioning and baseball.”
Indeed, the family built a lucrative AC firm on both sides of the border. In 1983, when Adrian was a toddler, his family moved from south from the Southern California community of San Ysidro to Tijuana so that David could be closer to the business. This was Adrian’s primary residence for more than 10 years. The family moved back north when Adrian was in the sixth grade.
In Mexico, the Gonzalezes lived in a spacious home that had a room large enough for indoor one-on-one baseball games. After work, David would take his boys to a local baseball field near the Tijuana Airport, where David Jr. would play shortstop, with Edgar at second and young Adrian at first. The brothers tossed the ball easily to their little brother until he became angry and demanded they throw it as hard as they could.
In the evenings, the boys would hang around their father’s games—shagging fly balls during warm-ups and helping in the dugout. All three played Little League in the spring and early summer, and then switched to Youth League ball in Mexico until school began. They played as many as 120 games a season when all was said and done.
Some of Adrian’s fondest childhood memories were of his backyard Wiffle Ball games against Edgar, who was four years older. To this day, both brothers can remember those contests in exquisite detail. Their games were even until Adrian learned how to throw a pitch that started behind his brother's back and finished in the strike zone, which was an old folding chair. From then on, Edgar says in mock disgust, his little brother won most of the games—“all because of that one pitch!”
The Gonzalez brothers rooted for the hometown Padres, especially Tony Gwynn. Adrian and Gwynn would one day share the same agent, John Boggs. Adrian was too young to remember the 1984 team, but he was thrilled when San Diego won the pennant in 1998. The player Adrian modeled himself after, however, was Rafael Palmeiro.
Adrian and Edgar pushed each other relentlessly. Adrian has said many times that Edgar’s work ethic drove him and inspired him. When Edgar saw Adrian’s quick rise through the minors, it spurred him on to reach the majors, too.
As a teenager, Adrian played for East Lake High School, in Chula Vista, a town near the Mexican border. His coach there was Dave Gonzalez, the same man who coached his brother and father. During Adrian’s high school years, Edgar was making a name for himself at San Diego State.
Adrian grew to 6–2 and became a star at East Lake. He reminded many of a young Mark Grace. He was silky smooth around the bag, hit the ball where it was pitched, and had enough power to yank the occasional home run. Heading into his senior year, Adrian—certain to be drafted in a high round—weighed the benefits of going pro against accepting a scholarship from the University of Miami, one of several top programs that had expressed interest in him. It didn't hurt that the San Diego area had a bumper crop of first-round prospects. With Scott Heard, Matt Wheatland, Adam Johnson, Shaun Boyd and Robert Stiehl all playing within an hour of one another, there was almost always a group of top scouts at Adrian’s games. These players are unknown to fans today, but all were taken in the opening round of the 2000 draft.
A scout for the Florida Marlins said the teamplanned to grab Adrian with the first pick in the second round. That was only a couple of weeks into a season that would produce outrageous numbers—a .645 average, 13 homers and 34 RBIs in 76 at-bats. As Adrian heated up, his draft status rose until the Marlins had to think seriously about using their #1 pick on him. Over the course of a couple of months, he worked out for the Marlins' talent evaluators 10 times.
In the spring of 2000, both brothers were drafted. Adrian was the first overall pick, by the Marlins. Edgar went in the 30th round to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It was quite a day for the Gonzalez family. Adrian was the first high school infielder taken #1 since Alex Rodriguez in 1993.
ON THE RISE
Adrian signed for a $3 million bonus and picked up as a pro right where he left off as a high-schooler. He played 53 games for the Gulf Coast League Marlins and the final eight for the low Class-A Utica. After starting 4-for-28, he hit for average and power at both stops and was named the GCL’s fifth-best prospect. Adrian came into his own in his second year as a pro. Playing for the Class-A Kane County Cougars, he hit .312 with 37 doubles, 17 home runs and 103 RBIs. He and teammate Miguel Cabrera were selected to play in the Futures Game that summer.
Adrian led the Midwest League in hits and total bases and was named the circuit’s MVP for 2001. He won games for the Cougars with his bat and glove and led the team to the league title. Not too shabby for a player still in his teens.
The organization’s reigning Player of the Year did not disappoint in 2002, which he spent entirely with the Class-AA Portland SeaDogs. Adrian batted. 266 with 34 doubles, 17 homers and 96 RBIs. He led Portland in virtually every offensive category and was named the 31st-best prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America. The only knock against Adrian at this early stage was that he tended to get dinged with minor injuries. The Marlins were particularly worried about a bad wrist that they felt might prevent him from becoming a big-time power hitter.
Adrian played on three teams in 2003. He began the year with Class-AAA Albuquerque. After a hot start, he struggled and was sent down to the Carolina Mudcats. On July 11, he was informed that he had been dealt to the Texas Rangers. Adrian joined the team's Class-AA outfit in Frisco and batted close to .500 after switching uniforms. He cooled off to finish at .283 with six doubles, three homers and 17 RBIs for the RoughRiders, who made it to the Texas League playoffs. Adrian led the team in hits during the postseason and then was sent to the Peoria Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .260 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 23 games.
Adrian moved up to the Class-AAA Oklahoma RedHawks to begin 2004 but didn’t stay there for long. He got his first taste of major league life that spring, when Mark Teixeira went on the DL in April. Unaccustomed to his new surroundings, Adrian nearly killed himself during infield practice. He decided to chase a foul pop near the stands and ran full-speed into one of the many protective screens scattered around the field.
Adrian took an 0-fer his first game and then collected his first big-league hit the next night against Ramon Ortiz of the Seattle Mariners. He hit in his next three games and enjoyed a three-hit game a couple of days later—including a pair of doubles and his first home run. His four-bagger was the third in a row hit by the Rangers, following blasts by Laynce Nix and Rod Barajas.
When Teixeira returned, Adrian went back to the RedHawks. He played the rest of the minor league season there, finishing with a .315 average, 12 home runs and 84 RBI in 115 games. Adrian rejoined the Rangers after the RedHawks were eliminated from the PCL playoffs. He finished the year with a .238 average for Texas.
Adrian came to camp in 2005 hoping to prove that he belonged in the big leagues. He scorched the ball at a .392 pace and began the year in Texas as a backup to Teixeira, but he eventually spent the year yo-yoing between Arlington and Oklahoma, earning three different stints with the big club that covered 43 games, mostly as a DH. He batted .227 with six homers. The highlight of his season was an eight-game hitting streak in early September. All told, between the majors and minors, Adrian batted .303 with 24 homers and 82 RBIs.
On January 4, 2006, Adrian changed addresses again, this time joining the Padres in a trade that Texas probably still regrest. The Rangers, desperate for pitching, dealt him along with Chris Young for starter Adam Eaton and reliever Akinori Otsuka. Both had been key members of the San Diego ’s division-winning 2005 club. It would turn out to be one of the most lopsided interleague trades in history, as both Adrian and the 6–10 Young would soon blossom into All-Stars.
Adrian entered spring training as the backup to veteran Ryan Klesko, but that changed quickly when Klesko underwent shoulder surgery. Adrian was handed the everyday job.
MAKING HIS MARK
The great things that had long been predicted for Adrian were finally free to happen. He collected two hits on Opening Day and produced all year. Adrian had a pair of 17-game hitting streaks, one before the All-Star break and one after. It was in the season's second half that he really kicked it into high gear, batting .336 to finish with a .304 average. He was the NL’s top hitter down the stretch and finished with 24 homers, 82 RBIs and a slugging average of .500. Adrian was not a classic power hitter. His homers came in bunches, including seven over a seven-game stretch in July. This would be the rule for Adrian, even as his power improved over the next few years.
The Padres, meanwhile, won the NL West, marking the first time in franchise history they won back-to-back division titles. Unfortunately, the jubilation of the season's final weekend disappeared quickly, as the San Diego bats went to sleep in the Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Padres managed just one victory. Adrian was the only San Diego hitter who solved St. Louis pitching, batting .357 and scoring a third of the team’s runs during the four-game series.
Over the winter, the Padres began hammering out a contract extension for Adrian. He inked a four-year, $9.5 million deal at the end of spring training.
Adrian began 2007 like a house afire, setting a new team mark with 25 RBIs in April and tying the franchise record for homers with seven. He continued to hit consistently throughout the season, particularly on the road.
The Padres were again in the thick of the NL West race. They battled the Arizona Diamondbacks most of the year, but a pair of heartbreaking losses to the Milwaukee Brewers on the season’s last two days enabled the D-Backs to clinch the division. Even worse, the surging Colorado Rockies tied the Padres in the standings. San Diego faced off against Colorado in a one-game playoff for the NL Wild Card. The Padres took the field in Denver and lost 9–8 in 13 innings.
The finale against the Rockies saw Adrian sock his 30th homer of the year, which also happened to be his first career grand slam. He finished with an even 100 RBIs and a .282 average. His 46 doubles were fifth in the league and the third highest total all-time for a Padre. He would have traded them all to win that game, especially when the Rockies ended up reaching the World Series.
The Padres entered the 2008 campaign aging and injured at several key positions. Veteran leaders Trevor Hoffman and Brian Giles were slowing down, and Chris Young was hit in the face by a line drive and never really recovered. It was a long season that ended with the Padres coming within one defeat of 100 losses.
There were some bright spots for Adrian. In early May, the Padres called up Edgar, who was now with his sixth club. The family was thirlled—it had looked as if his career might get stalled at Triple A. The Gonzalez brothers appeared in the lineup together for the first time on May 12. Edgar playedt third base, which made him and Adrian the first set of brothers to play the infield together in team history. Energized by Edgar's call-up, Adrian clubbed 10 homers and drove in 29 runs for the month.
At midseason, Adrian was selected to play in the All-Star Game. At that point, he had 22 homers, second-most in team history at the break to Greg Vaughn. Adrian entered the contest in the sixth inning and wound up batting four times because the game went 15 innings. He collected a hit, a sac fly and an RBI in a 4–3 loss to the American League.
Adrian sagged in the second half, with his power output and average both drooping a bit. Although the Padres were long out of the running, he finished strong, hitting in 14 of his last 16 games to boost his average to .279. His final numbers eclipsed anything he had accomplished in the past. He established new career bests with 36 homers, 103 runs, 113 RBIs, and a .510 slugging average. At season’s end, Adrian was honored with a Gold Glove, the first ever won by a San Diego first baseman.
The Padres’ prospects didn’t look much better in 2009, but Adrian began the year in another world. He was smashing homers at a record pace, including long balls in five games in a row in May. Earlier in the season, he swiped his first base, after 558 games in the majors. He had attempted a couple earlier as part of manager Bud Black’s new plan to be aggressive on the basepaths, but the batter had fouled those pitches off.
Adrian played in his second straight All-Star Game that July, drawing a walk in one plate appearance. That was no surprise. As the season wore on, enemy hurlers chose to pitch around him rather than put one in his wheelhouse. As San Diego’s best and often only power source, he saw le=ss and less good pitches to hit. Adrian ended up leading the majors with 119 bases on balls. His home run pace dropped off slightly, but he still managed to finish with 40. He fell one RBI short of 100 and finished among the Top 10 hitters in on-base, slugging, total bases and home runs.
The Padres entered 2010 with a so-so offense and a largely untested pitching staff. Improving on their 4th place finish in the NL West seemed unlikely. Yet, with Adrian leading the way, they played quality baseball and spent much of the season atop the division standings. Padre fans, expecting a sell-off of talent, instead got to watch the team grow and battle for the division title. The race came down to the campaign’s final series, against the San Francisco Giants. San Diego dropped two of three and finished second, two games back.
It was a bitter disappointment for Adrian, who knocked in three runs in the series-opening win. The San Francisco staff, among the best in baseball, quieted his bat in the next two games. Still, his final numbers were nothing to be ashamed of. He batted .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBI, and played in his third All-Star Game. When the MVP voting was tabulated, Adrian finished fourth.
By this time, Adrian was already on his way out of San Diego. The Padres knew they couldn’t afford to keep him, so they accepted trade offers. The Red Sox were the winners. It cost them two major prospects—pitcher Casey Kelly and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.
Adrian began his Boston career quietly. He had just one home run in April, but he was driving in runs and his average was around .300. The next two months were a different story. Adrian clouted nine homers in May, and by mid-June he had a total of 15. He also boosted his average over .350, grabbing the AL lead in that category. By all accounts, Adrian became the favorite to win the league MVP.
The Red Sox have a perfect cornerstone in Adrian. In fact, they signed him to a seven-year extension during the 2011 campaign. Still in his 20s, he is the anchor in the infield and in the heart of the lineup. Once counted on to supply all the offense in San Diego, A-Gon now can concentrate on being one of the guys—and getting the Red Sox back to the World Series.
ADRIAN THE PLAYER
For all of his natural ability, Adrian has always been a student of the game. He watches tons of video on opposing pitchers and keeps close track of his previous at-bats against each hurler. Adrian goes to the plate with an idea of what he wants to accomplish and isn’t afraid to alter his strategy from pitch to pitch. More often than not, he is able to outthink the pitcher and get a pitch he is ready and able to hit.
Adrian has been an outstanding defensive first baseman as long as anyone can remember. He learned the position from his father and had two pro-level older brothers throwing to him as a boy. Today his glovework and footwork make him one of the finest fielders in baseball. Adrian’s favorite play is to go after the runner at second on the front end of a DP. Most first sackers will take the easy out at first instead of risking a bad throw.
Adrian is a throwback player—modest, quiet, hardworking and involved in the community. This, along with his on-field performance, has earned the respect and admiration of his teammates. He is now one of the team’s most valuable clubhouse leaders.
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