<
>

Gonzo set to move on, would like to 'haunt' D-Backs

PHOENIX -- Undisputedly the most popular player in the
nine-year history of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Luis Gonzalez is saying goodbye.


One day after being told by the team's front office that he
would not be back next season, Gonzalez says he understands the
decision and is ready to move on.

"I love the fact that the fans care and I care for all the
fans, too," Gonzalez said Friday, "but realistically this is a
business and I understand that aspect of it."

He said he would have liked to have stayed, "but that option
wasn't given to me."

"There was only one door," Gonzalez said, "and that door said
'exit.' You know what, I don't have hard feelings. That's the route
they chose to take, and there's going to be teams out there for
me."

In his first at-bat Friday night against Colorado, Gonzalez got
a long standing ovation, a warm reception elongated when Rockies
pitcher and former Diamondback Byung-Hyun Kim took a long break to
retie his shoes. Gonzalez responded with an RBI sacrifice fly. He finished 0-for-3 in the D-Backs' 5-1 win. He now has six home games remaining.

Gonzalez thanked former managing partner Jerry Colangelo and
ex-general manager Joe Garagiola Jr., and said he has the "utmost
respect" for general manager Josh Byrnes, in his first year on the
job.

"It's a new regime," Gonzalez said. "Obviously, I'm from the
old school guys that were here before. There's only a few of us
left, and probably after this season there's not going to be any of
us left. You know, things change. That's part of life. I understand
that."

"I want to ride out on a donkey. Since everybody
said I'm getting old, just open the right-field gate and let me
ride out on a donkey into the sunset."

Luis Gonzalez

Craig Counsell, who along with Miguel Batista are the only
current Diamondbacks to play with Gonzalez on the on the 2001 World
Series championship team, attended Gonzalez's news conference.

"It's not too often that the best player on the team is also
the best guy on the team," Counsell said later. "That's the rare
combination that he brings."

Manager Bob Melvin called Gonzalez "probably the classiest guy
I've ever been in a clubhouse with."

"He's the face. He's the ambassador," the manager said, "not
only to the Diamondbacks but to sports as a whole in Arizona.
That's the thing I'm struggling with the most is coming to grips
with, come spring training next year, not seeing Luis Gonzalez in
the clubhouse that first day. That's going to be a sad day for all
of us."

Melvin sat next to Gonzalez at the farewell news conference,
where the 39-year-old outfielder talked about his career and his
closeness with fans.

"I think I have a strong bond with the people because I'm a
normal guy," he said. "When I take my uniform off, I'm like
everybody else. I'm not a rock star or a superstar athlete or
anything like that. I'm a normal guy. I go to the fair. I go to the
movies. I don't shelter myself. My kids go to public school. They
don't go to private school."

His triplets -- Megan, Jacob and Alyssa -- were born in 1998, a
year before he came to the Diamondbacks from Detroit in what turned
out to be one of the most one-sided trades in recent baseball
history.

"When I left Detroit, they said I was going to be a fourth
outfielder," Gonzalez said. "Here I am eight years later, five
All-Star Games, a home run derby champion, a World Series
champion."

Being shown the door by the Diamondbacks he said, is "just
another motivation thing to push me. When I get out there and
compete, I hope to get to play against the Diamondbacks, because
the biggest thrill for an athlete is when you get to come back and
play against your former team."

He leads the NL in doubles -- the oldest player to hit 50 in a
season -- and has no doubt he has the skills to help some team next
year.
"I've got 50 doubles. It's not like I'm on crutches out there
playing," he said. "I'm hitting .277. I'm leading the team in
runs scored. If I was hurting the team, I surely think Bo-Mel
[Melvin] wouldn't have me in the lineup."

However, he assured everyone, he will not be playing in his
hometown of Tampa, Fla.

"I keep hearing Tampa Bay," he said. "I don't want to play
for Tampa Bay. No knock against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays -- that's
where I grew up and I was excited when they got a team. But I'm in
my 16th year. Money is not an option for me right now. I want to
play to win."

Gonzalez earns $11.5 million this season, a contract negotiated
by his then-agent Jeff Moorad, now a managing partner of the
Diamondbacks and one of those who made the decision to let Gonzalez
go. He knew the team would not exercise the $10 million option for
next season, but hoped for a chance to negotiate a new deal for
less money.

Byrnes and Moorad made it clear that would not happen at their
breakfast meeting on Thursday.

"I felt like I was eating nails for breakfast," Gonzalez said,
"just chewing me up inside."

Gonzalez wouldn't mind staying in the NL West "so I can come
back and haunt these guys."

But wherever he goes, he wants to play every day.

"If I didn't feel in my mind that I can't compete at this
level, I know I would walk away," he said. "It would be tough,
but I would walk away from this game. I have goals in my mind, and
one of them is to win a world championship. That's my main goal.
All the personal records are great, but I want to add another ring
to my collection."

Gonzalez joked about how an old man like him should leave Chase
Field for the last time.

"I want to ride out on a donkey," he said. "Since everybody
said I'm getting old, just open the right-field gate and let me
ride out on a donkey into the sunset."