Adrian Gonzalez was on the field at Petco Park Tuesday, a couple hours before first pitch, when a crowd of roughly two dozen onlookers screamed his first name in unison. They were all wearing the same thing,navy-blue collared shirts and dark gray slacks that revealed their status as Petco Park employees.
Maybe each of them had a personal memory of Gonzalez, maybe not, but it was a nice moment emblematic of Gonzalez’s personal relationship with San Diego.
“We’ve just got to focus on winning,” Gonzalez said on the eve of his first game here since he was traded to Boston in December 2010. “But I was born here, grew up here, and so there’s definitely a lot more connection.”
When he came to the plate in the first inning, the reception was more lukewarm, a mix of boos and cheers from a typically small crowd. Many of those cheers came from Dodger fans.
But Gonzalez said before the game that the reception didn’t matter. San Diego is still home — literally –and he spent the Dodgers’ off-day Monday with his wife and daughter. “We went down to Chula Vista,” he said. “Had some really good tacos.”
Gonzalez knows that locals will ask him why he left San Diego. While hitting 161 home runs over five seasons from 2006-2010, Gonzalez was often the only Padre hitter to seem comfortable in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. Playing out the prime of his career in his native San Diego seemed ideal.
Gonzalez’s response is a simple one: “I didn’t leave, I was traded.”
But the popular perception is that the Padres had good reason to trade Gonzalez. Their only other choice, it seemed, was to let the slugger leave as a free agent after the 2011 season, knowing he would want a significant raise from the $6.3 million he was due in the final year of his contract.
Gonzalez eventually agreed to a seven-year, $154 million deal with the Red Sox. Here’s a good rundown of how the trade, and the contract, came to fruition.
“I was always confident the deal would get done,” Padres general manager Jed Hoyer told USA Today at the time of the trade. “It was hard for me to think that Adrian could come back to San Diego and turn down that kind of money.”
Or was there another choice?
“I don’t know how much they would have been able to offer,” Gonzalez said. “I don’t know what their limit was.
“I was traded. I was never offered a contract. Would you accept an offer that was never offered?”
That’s got to be a dissatisfying question for Padre fans, whose boos seem to cast Gonzalez as a greedy scapegoat in the divorce with San Diego.
Fair or not, it’s a reception he may come to expect here.