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

Updated: September 16, 2006, 1:38 AM ET
Associated Press

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

Left Field
Arizona Diamondbacks

140 15 71 87 .361 .277

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."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press