Gonzalez Feels Back at Home With Rockies

SCOTTSDALE, Az. – Carlos Gonzalez is back where he feels at home, with the Rockies. He’s with his baseball family and friends. And he is excited about what lies ahead.

“It's no secret,” Gonzalez said of his feelings with the Rockies. “Even before I hit free agency I'd say this is the place that I want to be. Obviously, I wanted to see what was out there, but at the end of the day this has been my home for the past nine seasons, so it's always good to be home.”

This wasn’t the best of time to be a free agent. Teams haven’t handed out lavish contracts like they did in the past. Gonzalez, who turned down a three-year, $45 million extension last spring, wound up with a one-year deal worth a reported $8 million. But he’s not complaining.

“If you make $100 million, if you make $1 dollar, they're the same,” he said. I came (to the United States from Venezuela) with a bat and a glove when I was 16 years old, and everything from now on is a plus. I feel blessed, I'm playing the game that I love, and I'm still out here with a great group and a great organization.”

He is back where he feels he belongs.

Gonzalez originally signed with the Diamondbacks in August of 2002, two months and 15 days before he turned 17, but did not make his big-league debut until after he was part of a five-player trade in which he went to Oakland and the D-Backs acquired Dan Haren, where he made his big-league debut in 2008.

After that season, he joined the Rockies along with Huston Street and Greg Smith in a deal that sent Matt Holliday to the A’s.

It has been in a Rockies uniform that Gonzalez became a top-tier big-leaguer, earning three All-Star selections, winning the NL batting title in 2010, earning three Gold Gloves and two Silver Sluggers.

“I'm glad I'm back and wearing the same uniform I've been wearing for the past nine seasons,” he said. “This will be number 10, which is special. Not a lot of guys can say, `Hey, I played 10 years with one organization, with one uniform.' So that's something that makes me proud, and my family is really happy to get back, too.”

Now the challenge is for Gonzalez to get all the way back to the player he has shown he is capable of being. There were struggles last year, the least productive of the seven seasons in which he has appeared in more than 100 games. He hit .262 with 14 home runs and 57 RBI. He, however, was the Rockies offensive catalyst in September when they successfully battled for the second NL wild-card. He .377 with six home runs and 16 RBI in his final 24 regular-season games.

It’s that month that provides him with reason to feel he can reaffirm his stature as one of the game’s premiere players in 2018. He did, after all, make an adjustment in how he held the bat in August, and received professional help with a sleep disorder as he headed into September.

“I know that I'm capable of playing at a high level,” he said. “You've got to out there and do the job. But I feel strong, I feel prepared and ready to go.”

His teammates were ready to welcome him back. He received calls from multiple players in the last two months, expressing hope he would return with Nolan Arenado leading the way. He has, after all, emerged as a key clubhouse figure in the last couple of years, impacting not just the Latin players, but the entire roster with his ability to enjoy the game no matter whether he is going good or struggling.

It was so apparent during the struggles last season when after a game there was always a group huddled around Gonzalez’s locker, particularly the young Latin players, looking for guidance.

That underscored Gonzalez’s feeling that the Rockies are where he belonged.

“It makes me feel really good," Gonzalez said of the support from his teammates. “I feel like I've done a pretty good job with my teammates. Being a free agent and a lot of players are calling me, saying, `Hey man, we miss you, we hope you get back.‘ That's what makes you feel happy and makes everything so easy when it comes time to make a decision.

“So, I think that plays really a big role, having Nolan and having DJ (LeMahieu) and (Charlie) Blackmon, Parra ... I mean, everybody involved calling me and saying that, hey man, this place is a little different without you,” he said. “So that makes me feel proud and happy to be here.”

Now the focus is on getting ready for a season that opens in 16 days. Gonzalez for his the first three days in town, beginning with Tuesday, Gonzalez is expected to appear in minor league games, where there is more flexibility and he will be able to get seven or more at-bats each game against live pitching. It's part of him tracking pitches and getting prepared to get into games against big-league competition.

He has worked out all winter, and did spend some time in the workouts the Major League Baseball Players Association created in Florida for free agents who weren't signed, but that isn't close to the work of a regular spring.

"It's getting up early, hitting the gym, doing the same thing that I normally do; obviously a little different because everybody else was already facing pitchers, so that's the  difference," said Gonzalez. "They want to make sure (Gonzalez is healthy). So this is what I will. Most of all I'm glad to be back here with my teammates."

As his teammates have made clear, they are glad to have him back.

Tracy RingolsbyComment