Commentary

Gonzalez's family ties strong in Mexico

Being a part of Team Mexico a dream come true for Padres slugger

Originally Published: March 16, 2009
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

37 years ago

A tall, strapping young man with thick, hairy forearms and a strong, muscular build steps out of a modest car and nervously paces to a humble house in a modest part of Tijuana, Mexico. Alongside him walks a good friend, a baseball teammate whom everyone calls Chi-Chi. He accompanies his tall friend on this day simply for moral support.

A few moments later, the young man knocks firmly on the house's door to ask for his beautiful girlfriend's hand in marriage. Although this young man is a star in the baseball community, a national-selection player, he has never been so nervous as he is now.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Gonzalez
AP Photo/Gregory BullAdrian Gonzalez is batting .316 in five games for Team Mexico in this month's WBC.

A older man answers the door.

"Hello, sir," the young man says. "It's David Gonzalez."

Gonzalez enters the house. For the next few moments, Gonzalez tells his girlfriend's father the reasons he should allow such a marriage. He explains how much he loves the young woman, and that soon he will take a stable job with an air-conditioning firm so that he could support a family.

The older man simply nods his head. Well, at this point, Chi-Chi can no longer stand and watch his good friend suffer.

"But sir," Chi-Chi interjects, "David is a really good baseball player. One of the best."

The older man smiles.

"Well then, of course he can marry my daughter," the older man says.

Now

A tall, strapping young man with thick, hairy forearms and a strong, muscular build steps out of the tunnel at Petco Park and into the dugout at a stadium in a city that is his own. He wears a bright-green jersey that is the color of a basil leaf, and displayed across his chest is the word "Mexico."

Entering just his fourth full major league season, San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, a first-time All-Star last season after hitting 36 home runs with 119 RBIs, has become the most celebrated player in Mexico. Along the way, he has broken the stereotype that once existed among American-born Mexicans: that a player born in the United States and raised mostly in the United States would never be fully accepted by a Mexican audience.

That is not to say that Gonzalez, who was born in San Diego, doesn't have long Mexican roots. His father, David, was a star amateur player in Mexico, and Adrian lived in Tijuana and played in amateur leagues south of the border for a large part of his life.

The Gonzalez clan has become the first family of Mexican baseball. The oldest son, David Jr., was a college player and now runs a bat company. The middle son, Edgar, made his major league debut last season with the Padres and now is Team Mexico's starting second baseman.

As for the third son, you know where he ended up.

"It's a huge event playing for Mexico," Adrian Gonzalez said. "I think that's the most important thing, representing our country, representing everything that we want to represent. As far as our family, they're loving every minute of it. We're enjoying being together like we always do. I think we're blessed with a great family, so we're happy to be a part of this and being a part of Team Mexico."

23 years ago

On this day, a group of 10- and 11-year-old boys raised mostly in San Diego are set to compete in a tournament against teams of boys raised only in Mexico. The team's manager is David Gonzalez, a statuesque man who is well respected in the Mexican baseball community.

A stigma existed against the boys raised in San Diego as to whether they belonged playing in Mexico or whether they should stay across the border and play in San Diego. But Gonzalez believed a good Mexican baseball player was simply a good baseball player, and it didn't matter where he lived because Mexican blood ran through all the boys, no matter how steep that river was and how far that Mexican blood had to travel.

The star shortstop for the team was David Jr., a flashy kid who wore sweatbands on his tiny forearms and could pick a grounder as good as anyone.

But the most curious sight of that day was David's two youngest sons, Edgar and Adrian. The two little boys argued over who would be allowed to use one of the extra bats that had been laid out. Being older, Edgar won the argument. That did not sit well with Adrian, who pouted and began to cry. He really had wanted to play.

Now

Once the first overall pick of the 2000 MLB draft by the Florida Marlins out of Eastlake High School in south San Diego, Adrian Gonzalez has blossomed in San Diego after being traded by the Texas Rangers to the Padres before the 2006 season.

It's a huge event playing for Mexico. I think that's the most important thing, representing our country, representing everything that we want to represent.

-- Adrian Gonzalez

"I've known him since we were 5, 6 years old, and to see what I've seen him accomplish is impressive," said Mexico infielder Freddy Sandoval, who plays in the Los Angeles Angels organization. "He was always a good player, but you would never say that he was great. But he's put in so much work to get to where he is."

Mostly, Gonzalez simply was allowed to develop by the Padres, who showed patience unlike the Marlins and Rangers. A wrist injury had sapped Gonzalez of some of his power in the minors. It took more than a year for him to recover. By then, the Rangers had given up on him and included him in a trade with Chris Young that netted Texas pitchers Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. Always known as a stellar defensive player, Gonzalez has become an offensive force despite playing in the hitters' graveyard known as Petco Park.

"I still think his best years are ahead of him," Sandoval said.

One month ago

David Gonzalez is happy -- not simply happy, but three beers happy -- when he invites a reporter for dinner after Mexico's 12-9 win against the Dominican Republic in a Caribbean Series game in Mexicali, Mexico.

On that particular night, David's youngest son, Adrian, bashed a Caribbean Series-record three home runs, and his middle son, Edgar, had two important hits.

The night truly belonged to the Gonzalez family.

After Adrian's third home run, the crowd chanted his name. On this particular day, Adrian cemented his status as Mexico's most beloved baseball player, and for David, that alone was reason for celebration.

Now

In the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, Adrian Gonzalez had been quiet and shy, as is his nature. At that point, Gonzalez, who was not even Mexico's regular first baseman, was simply a young player with potential playing alongside established superstars such as Vinny Castilla, who at that time carried the tag as Mexico's best active ballplayer.

Now Castilla is the aged manager and Gonzalez is the superstar.

"He's much more mature [than he was in the last WBC]," Castilla said. "He's going to keep getting better. He's very intelligent."

Although he's not a vocal leader, Gonzalez is not shy to give hitting advice to his teammates on Team Mexico. He often shares information on a particular pitcher he might have faced or perhaps shares a piece of advice on how to field a particular type of ground ball. His development is almost complete.

As Chi-Chi once said about David Gonzalez, his son is a really good baseball player. One of the best.

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.

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