By Sean McAdam
Dave Magadan was Adrian Gonzalez's first hitting coach in the big leagues. Now, five years later, they're about to be reunited and Magadan can't wait.
"He's as good as it gets," said Magadan, the Red Sox hitting instructor, from his Florida home Saturday. "He was very advanced when I had him in San Diego and that was his first full year in the big leagues. He was very smooth, very smart. Even then, he had a real good feel for how he was going to get pitched."
At the time, in the spring of 2006, Magadan took Gonzalez's confidence and self-awareness the wrong way.
"I didn't say anything at the time," Magadan recalled, "but I remember thinking to myself: 'This guy thinks he's really smart.' I thought, 'Wait until he faces big league pitching.' But you know what? He was really smart. He was very advanced for a guy his age."
At the time, Gonzalez was not yet 24 and was ticketed for Triple A. But when incumbent first baseman Ryan Klesko elected to undergo shoulder surgery, Gonzalez stepped in as San Diego's everyday first baseman.
"He had a real good sense of his own swing," said Magadan, who was fired midway through the 2006 season. "He knew what makes a good hitter. In that way, he was very coachable. He could sit on pitches, and he had the discipline to swing at the pitch he was looking for.
"He was very advanced for a guy his age. I liked him from the get-go. Maybe he didn't open as many eyes right away because he hit the ball the other way so much and at his position, people expected him to pull the ball more. But he had the power the other way; he wasn't just hitting singles (to left field) -- he could hit the ball out."
From afar, Magadan admired how Gonzalez adapted to Petco Park, perhaps the least inviting ballpark in the big leagues for hitters.
"It got to the point where I think he could keep his head above water at Petco and do most of his damage on the road," said Magadan.
Indeed, over his career, in a breakdown that includes 59 games played with Texas in 2004 and 2005, Gonzalez has hit 107 homers on the road, compared to 61 at home; slugged .568 on the road and .440 at home; and compiled an .943 OPS away and .800 at home.
And now with the trade sending him to Boston, Gonzalez will go from one of the toughest hitter's ballparks to Fenway, one of the best.
"I think Fenway just plays right into what his strengths are," said Magadan. "He's got great power the other way. He can drive a pitch away and hit it out. He's got very good pull power, too; he's not a guy who just inside-outs the ball."
Gonzalez will be making a transition of another sort, too, going from San Diego, which made the postseason just once in his five seasons and where crowds are often modest, to Fenway, where expectations and fan involvement are far greater.
"He's got a good, even personality," said Magadan. "It's going to be different for him, but different in a good way. I know some guys struggle in Boston, but he's got that personality where he's got a passion for the game. I don't see it being a problem.
"There was a lot of pressure on him in San Diego, but it was a different kind of pressure. He was the big go-to guy in that lineup. Here, he's part of a deeper lineup and he doesn't have to be The Guy all the time."