In a way, it started with the plastic ball that does funny things, a staple of backyard brotherly warfare coast to coast.
These particular Wiffle ball battles often pitted young Adrian Gonzalez against his sibling, Edgar, who was nearly four years older. No matter. The younger, uber-talented Adrian gained his edge with a wacky delivery that flummoxed his brother. Meanwhile, he developed a batting stroke that enabled him to work with balls throughout the zone and hammer those that were in his wheelhouse. And so set the course upon which the youngest, and best, member of a baseball-mad family would travel, obliterating almost everything in his path.
Adrian, Edgar and David Jr. were the three sons of David Sr. and his wife, Alba. The elder David was a one-time star of the Mexican national team, and the couple raised the boys on both sides of the border. Because baseball was a summer sport in the San Diego area and a fall, winter and spring sport in the environs of Tijuana, there wasn’t a day that went by that young Adrian did not have a chance to hone his skills.
He spent much of his early childhood in Mexico before the family relocated for good to the San Diego area when he was in sixth grade. By the time things were settled and the youngest of the boys began to make his mark at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif., the year-round competition and skill set-inducing Wiffle ball games were evident.
“Future,” said David Gallegos, a coach on the Eastlake staff, about his first thought when he first met a 15-year-old Adrian. “Good head on his shoulders. Very talented. Very hardworking. A very good gentleman. Very respectful. He was a classy kid.
“You don’t find too many kids like him.”
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein first became aware of the skinny left-handed hitter at Eastlake around the same time. When Epstein served in the San Diego Padres’ front office in the late 1990s, he would often take a trip to catch the Titans when they played at home. It was love at first sight for the budding boy genius, who watched in appreciation as Gonzalez would bide his time against severely overmatched pitching and then poke shots the opposite way and over a bank of trees beyond the left-field fence.
The fact that Epstein didn’t find out until a dozen years later that it was just 280 feet down the line in left at Eastlake didn’t matter a bit. In fact, it might have made the GM even more pleased with what he saw.
Not only was Gonzalez showing wisdom beyond his years, simply taking what he was given as a hitter rather than try to impress scouts with 400-foot shots to right, but he was also showcasing the very stroke which should yield dozens of dents upon the Green Monster.
His former coach saw that stroke when the Red Sox new first baseman was barely a teenager.
“He was so strong the other way,” Gallegos said.
That strength and an overall understanding of the craft at a young age allowed Gonzalez to rocket up the high school prospects list. After hitting .645 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs as a senior, he was taken No. 1 overall by the Florida Marlins.
Thus began the next leg of Gonzalez’s journey. There would be no more Wiffle ball games, however, and the boy from both sides of the border with a swing as sweet as the sunshine in that part of the world would find the road a bit bumpy.
Check out Tuesday’s story on Gonzalez’s minor league career, which included his usual outstanding production, some injury concerns and the first of the three trades in which he has been involved.