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Dan Shaughnessy

Great early read on Gonzalez

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / April 3, 2011

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ARLINGTON, Texas — There was only one Ted Williams. Nobody else gets to be Ted.

So let’s not get all “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu’’ and try to make Adrian Gonzalez out to be the next Ted Williams. Gonzalez still hasn’t played a game in his Red Sox home white uniform, and he’s not going to hit .400, and he’s not going to fly 39 combat missions over Korea.

But two games into his Boston baseball career, Gonzalez looks like one terrific hitter (three more hits in last night’s dreadful, 12-5 loss) and he’s got some things in common with the greatest hitter who ever lived.

Gonzalez and Ted share Mexican heritage. Both bat lefthanded. Both grew up in San Diego. Gonzo played travel team games on Ted Williams Field at Herbert Hoover High.

And both know the most important ingredient of hitting: get a good pitch to hit.

I stopped by Gonzalez’s locker while he got ready for last night’s game against the Rangers. We talked a little bit about San Diego, about Ted Williams, and about Gonzalez’s father, a righty hitter who was a first baseman in northern Mexico’s amateur leagues. David Gonzalez is in his early 60s and greatly admired Ted Williams. He watches most of his son’s games.

“Does your dad talk to you about hitting?’’ I asked.

“Yeah,’’ said the slugger. “Make sure you get a good pitch to hit.’’

There it was. Adrian Gonzalez was channeling Ted Williams through his dad’s words. And he didn’t even know it.

Did you read Ted’s book, “The Science of Hitting,’’ I asked.

“No,’’ he answered. “But my dad always said make sure you get a good pitch to hit — a pitch up in the zone that you can drive.’’

I was taken back to the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park. It was the summer before Gonzalez’s senior year at Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif. (Gonzo hit a modest .645 with 13 homers in his senior season), and it was the last time Teddy Ballgame came to Fenway.

We remember Ted throwing out the first pitch, then being surrounded by both All-Star teams and the legends of the game in attendance. After that magic moment, Ted watched the game from an upstairs box, entertaining a procession of young servicemen, old ballplayers, and assorted Boston celebrities. In the middle innings, Ted was visited by Matt Damon and Damon’s dad, Kent, a freshman baseball coach at Newton North High.

“It was a great moment,’’ recalled Matt Damon. “I told Ted that I’d read his book and right away he asked me, ‘Oh yeah? What’s the most important message of my book?’ And I answered, ‘Get a good pitch to hit.’ He loved that. I passed the test.’’

Gonzalez passed the test without even reading the book.

“He would have read the book if he’d been in our farm system,’’ said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. “We give it to all of our minor leaguers.’’

Epstein was a 26-year-old assistant director of baseball operations for the Padres in 2000 and remembers scouting Gonzalez in high school.

“I saw him line a couple of home runs to straightaway left field,’’ said Epstein. “We joke about that. He fooled me. I thought he had some pop, but if you go and measure that fence, it was like 290 feet to left field. Back then he wasn’t as strong as he is now.

“He has great eyes and hands and a great natural swing. He really is a thinking man’s hitter. He spends so much time breaking down the opposing pitcher. He watched a ton of video on similar-type hitters and how those pitchers have approached him.

“Like Ted Williams always said, every hitter is a guess hitter, but it’s how educated your guess can be. Adrian is really smart and spends a lot of time preparing.

“He loads so well. His swing is naturally inside-out. He keeps the bat head back through the zone and stays inside the ball. He’s got great recognition skills and he can wait a little bit longer.’’

Waiting is key. Gonzalez has soft hands, like a lefty Manny Ramirez. He stays back on everything. Friday he dug in against Rangers lefthander C.J. Wilson and drove in three runs on a pair of hits.

Ask him about his soft hands and he’ll say, “That’s God’s gift.’’ Ask about staying back an extra millisecond and he’ll say, “I make sure I let the ball get deep. I work on that.’’

Do not ask him about using a lighter bat when he played with a bum shoulder last season. He thinks too much has been made of the topic.

The sky is falling on the Red Sox at this hour. But try to remember it’s only two games. The season is not yet over and Gonzalez is the bright light in an otherwise awful two days in Texas. All you nattering nabobs of negativity need to calm down and remember the good stuff. Watch Gonzalez and you’ll feel better.

His swing looks effortless. He hits a lot of balls to left-center. He should be a great Fenway hitter. You are going to love watching him hit. Just don’t expect him to be Ted Williams.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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