Editor's Note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee will focus on a different aspect of Adrian Gonzalez's life every day this week. On Tuesday, Gonzalez's tough rise through the minors was examined.
Apparently, you can go home again.
After being cast aside in two organizations in the span of two years, Adrian Gonzalez's arrival in San Diego in 2006 was, in reality, a perfect storm. The combination of his age (23 at the time), ability and his hometown team's need for a marquee player turned him from a vagabond minor leaguer into a superstar in the span of a few months.
Talk about right place, right time.
It's not as if Gonzalez did not have the ability to succeed somewhere at some time, but his arrival in Southern California was ideal. It also put plenty of pressure on the big lefty's shoulders.
"Family alone, there are a lot of people," Gonzalez said at the time, regarding those in his hometown who were itching to see him perform. "Add in friends and people who know people who know me and it's a pretty big group. I have to step up my game."
Looking at the slugger now, on the cusp of making millions upon millions of dollars for one of the sport's signature franchises, that 2006 season is essentially where it all began. Sure, the diet of baseball he received as a child set Gonzalez on this path, but it was that first campaign with his beloved Padres that laid the groundwork for his path to superstardom.
It didn't happen overnight, however.
Gonzalez was 5-for-8 with a home run and two doubles in his first series as a Padre, but he entered a bit of a slump soon thereafter. Through 39 games he was hitting .226 with just three homers, about on par with his production in limited time with the Texas Rangers over the prior two years. Surely, the whispers that had dogged him through his first two organizations, particularly those that he might not have had the work ethic required to achieve or might not be able to handle major league pitching, resurfaced in some corners of Petco Park.
However, a .330 mark in June preceded a monstrous July in which Gonzalez batted .362 with eight homers and 25 RBIs. Just over 24 years after a star was born in San Diego, he was born again in San Diego. The Adrian Gonzalez era had begun, and when he hit .365 in September and was named the MVP of another division winner, many knew that the nomadic existence he had experienced through his minor-league career had come to an end.
In his hometown, Gonzalez had finally found a home.
Interestingly enough, the Eastlake High star thought heading into the year he would be a bit player. Ryan Klesko was the incumbent first baseman and newly acquired catcher Mike Piazza figured to start at first against left-handers from time to time. Gonzalez had his eyes set on 2007, when the competition at his position, which had been blocked at each of his two stops previously, would be wide open.
"For me, this is a very important season," he said in the spring of 2006. "I may not be the regular this season, but I know I am going to play a lot. I want to be involved some way on an everyday basis, get into a comfort zone and produce. … I know what the plans are for 2006, and I'm fine with it. It sounds like I'll get two or three innings a game. They want me to succeed."
Instead of two or three innings a game, he often had two or three hits, leading the club in every major offensive category by season's end and cementing himself as one of the premier young talents in the game.
There was one major hurdle left in Gonzalez's quest to be grouped with the heavyweights of the sport. He made the league minimum of $380,000 in 2006. When the Padres renewed his contract for just $500 more that offseason, they were criticized. Given his vast potential and burgeoning fame within the city that adored him, Gonzalez deserved long-term security, many said.
Eventually, it would come, only that security had limits.
Check out Thursday's story on Gonzalez's remarkable run in San Diego, culminating in a 2010 campaign that many knew would be his last in a Padres uniform.