Matt McClain/Associated Press file photo
Matt McClain/Associated Press file photo
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – A year ago, Carlos Gonzalez discovered fame and fortune. Now, he’s determined to find fun again.
The Colorado Rockies’ left fielder was a care-free, budding star back in 2010, full of verve and vigor. He flirted with the Triple Crown in his first full season in the big leagues, winning a Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove to go with his NL batting title at the tender age of 25.
That earned him a seven-year, $80 million contract, the largest ever for a second-year player.
The big bucks and breakout season cemented his celebrity status in his native Venezuela, where everyone wanted a piece of him.
Gonzalez admits he was so busy being famous that he didn’t properly prepare for last season, and it showed.
“I wasn’t ready,” the slugger said. “It was a big difference from 2010. It was difficult to do anything, to train and work out without all the attention and (media) always asking me questions. This winter, it was a lot easier to be normal.
“I don’t miss the craziness.”
Gonzalez reported to camp last year toting more pounds and the burden of increased expectations, both of which weighed him down.
“I got a lot of things in one year. I got a contract. I have everything I want in one year,” Gonzalez said. “You have to be ready every single day to live up to that, and it’s hard to say it didn’t affect me. You want to get two hits in one at-bat.”
After hitting .228 with just five extra-base hits in April, Gonzalez rebounded to hit .295 with 26 homers and 92 RBIs. But he also injured his right wrist from multiple crashes into the outfield walls, which sidelined him for 33 games.
The Rockies went 10-23 in his absence and staggered to a 73-89 finish after beginning the season with high hopes for the playoffs.
“I basically battled the whole year because after I hit the wall that first time, I never felt the same,” Gonzalez said. “And right now I feel great.”
His wrist is healed, and his mind is clear.
Now, he’s trying to dial down his aggressive nature to stay healthy and remain in the lineup.
Gonzalez long has prided himself on his versatility in playing all three outfield positions, but the Rockies are hoping to keep him in left field this season, which should help him get more comfortable with the warning tracks.
“You know what would help me?” Gonzalez said. “If Dexter Fowler plays 162 games in center field.”
That’s the plan, and newcomer Michael Cuddyer is penciled in as the everyday right fielder, leaving Gonzalez in left.
“I would love to stay in one position,” Gonzalez said.
And off the DL.
Gonzalez said he realizes he must learn to curb his enthusiasm when it comes to diving or climbing walls to rob hitters of extra bases. Sometimes it’s just not worth the risk.
“I have to slow down, but it’s part of my game,” Gonzalez said. “Of course I want to be more careful with the walls, and that’s not going to stop me from going for a ball off the wall if the game is tied. But that’s what I want to do this year: I don’t want to go for a ball off the wall if the game is wide open – like the one against Kansas City when we were down by like five runs – and then I hurt my wrist.”
Gonzalez is as curious as his coaches are to see if this plan will work.
“It’s hard. I always think we have a chance to win the game, even if we’re down by 12 runs; I always think we’re going to win,” he said.
“I’m just going to have to remind myself what the score is. If we’re close, I’m going to go for it. If we’re not, just let it go,” Gonzalez said. “It’s easier to see a ball drop than to be on the bench for two weeks, three weeks. It’s just something that I have to control, and let’s start this year and see what happens. (But) I won’t promise you anything.”
Gonzalez and his teammates know if he stays in the lineup, the Rockies will have a much better chance of competing for the NL West crown.
“I have to be in there every day for the whole year. I know that if I play more than 150 games, I’m going to be able to contribute for the team and do special things,” Gonzalez said.
“I’m not talking about numbers, of course. The numbers are going to be there at the end of the year. I have to be able to stay in there to help the ballclub with anything. I can help this team with a stolen base, with a throw home, playing defense, offensively. My mentality right now is to stay healthy and be out there to support our team. That’s what I want to do this year,” he said.
That’s what he did two years ago in his breakout season.
“Yeah, 2010, it was great because I was coming off a playoff race, and my confidence level was up here, and when the playoffs were done, I just wanted to keep playing, you know? I went back home and prepared myself to be ready for spring training. I had an amazing spring training, and my confidence level was the same, even bigger and bigger,” Gonzalez said.
“That’s why I started really good in the beginning of the year and never stopped hitting. And then after the 2010 season, I went back to Venezuela, everybody just kept asking me questions and to be around me, and I forgot what I was doing. I started the season slow, and it was hard for me to get back to that level, and I finally got it.”
By the time he did, however, the Rockies were well on their way to the most disappointing season in their history. So, Gonzalez went back to Venezuela determined to get healthy and get back to the basics, before the pitfalls of fame and fortune took their toll.