Editor's note: NESN.com Red Sox reporter Tony Lee has focused on a different aspect of Adrian Gonzalez's life every day this week. On Thursday, he assessed his dominance through trying times at Petco Park.
When Adrian Gonzalez learned that he had been traded from Texas to San Diego after the 2005 season, he talked about the pressure he felt to perform well in front of friends and family. The adoration in his hometown could translate to a boatload of expectations, he thought.
Considering that many in Boston have drooled over the prospect of Gonzalez hitting in Fenway Park, and that several have made magnificent predictions for him since he was traded to the Red Sox earlier this month, that hometown pressure should pale in comparison.
Even those who bid Gonzalez adieu have set the bar extremely high for his time in Boston.
"I think he's going to be unbelievable in Fenway Park," said Padres general manager Jed Hoyer, a former assistant to Red Sox GM Theo Epstein. "He hit so many fly balls the other way, so many times they just died on the warning track in Petco Park. I think he's going to be a monster at Fenway Park."
There are some out there predicting monstrous production along the lines of what Hoyer sees, and it makes sense. Gonzalez drew nearly as many intentional walks (35) as the entire Red Sox team (43) in 2010, while still hitting .298 with 31 homers and 101 RBIs. With guys like Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz hitting behind him next year, as opposed to Chase Headley and Scott Hairston last year, Gonzalez figures to see many more pitches to hit, and he could wreak havoc on the Green Monster.
Indeed, Gonzalez owns a career OPS of .943 on the road, compared to .800 at home, the bulk of those games coming at Petco. Also, roughly half of his home runs in recent years have been hit the opposite way. Spreading the ball around at a place like Fenway should yield magnificent returns.
Longtime outfielder Gary Sheffield, who hit .307 in 51 career games in Boston, predicted Gonzalez would hit 70 doubles in a season while playing with the Sox. Some laughed when Sheffield said that, but he may be on to something; the major league record in that category is 67, but it was established in 1931 by Red Sox outfielder Earl Webb, a left-handed hitter who exploded statistically upon being traded to Boston a year prior.
But will such predictions and haughty talk make for a difficult adjustment for Gonzalez? Players have been known to suffer in the spotlight of places like Boston, and when they are expected to bring a transformative presence to a team like the Red Sox, the pressure can mount when that transformation is not immediate.
Gonzalez's newest boss is not concerned. Epstein has been following the slugger since high school, and wanted him in the fold for more than just his bat.
"I think he's someone who is driven for all the right reasons," Epstein said. "He's not externally motivated. He's not in it for the attention, not in it for the money, not in it for himself. He's driven by his teammates, he's driven to win and he's driven to become one of the best of all time."
For his part, Gonzalez has channeled another left-handed Red Sox bat who knew a thing or two about putting dents in the Green Monster. Ted Williams, who passed away almost two years before Gonzalez ever saw a pitch in the major leagues, is a fellow San Diego native and someone the younger of the two always looked up to.
"It was one of the things where you grow up and you always root for a National League team and an American League team, and the Red Sox have always been the American League team that I rooted for," Gonzalez said. "I think with Ted Williams and all those things and him being from San Diego and seeing what he did here, everyone knows he's one of the greatest of all time.
"There's always been a lot of connections between me and my heart and the Red Sox."
Perhaps imagining ahead of time what it is like to succeed in a place like Boston, and knowing that Williams himself overcame his own battles with fans and the media to become such a special player, will allow Gonzalez to transition without a problem.
Or perhaps the mind-set he had when he first felt that pressure to succeed in San Diego roughly five years ago will help. Facing the expectations of the city that raised him and had starved for a signature player to get behind since the departure of Tony Gwynn, Gonzalez turned to the same thing that Williams did all those years — his bat.
"My hitting," Gonzalez said at the time. "Once I get comfortable and feel a part of what I'm doing, I've always hit."
In order to meet some massive expectations in Boston, that's all he'll need to do.
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