Says Smith, "If you invest the money on a star player, you want a guy who's as dedicated to the game as this guy. He doesn't want much. He wants to play, work out, go home, and do it again tomorrow."
He also wants to play for a winning team in a hitter's park. Heading into a nine-game homestand on Tuesday, Gonzalez had hit one home run in 52 at bats at the Copa and seven in 83 at bats on the road, including four last week in five games in Cleveland and Boston. The Tigers' No. 5 hitters—Bobby Higginson has been used most often there behind Gonzalez—have contributed only four home runs and 13 RBIs. Detroit is such a bad offensive team that it could not score more than two runs in 21 of its first 40 games. Almost nobody's hitting, but Gonzalez has borne the brunt of the fans' frustration. "Why?" he says. "There are 24 other guys. I am only one. I try so hard between the lines."
This isn't the love affair Smith envisioned. Gonzalez even missed the inaugural game at Comerica Park (and five others) because of a tight hamstring. After the opener Gonzalez and his entourage dined at a family restaurant in a blighted neighborhood near Tiger Stadium. Here, at ease, surrounded by plates of steak, rice and beans, vinyl tablecloths, paper napkins and friends, he said he had found peace. He explained that one day last summer at his Arlington, Texas, home his body suddenly grew hot and tingly, and he felt the presence of God. "My heart was empty and now it is full," he said. "Everything is under control. Everything has changed. I feel great. I am happy. I pray for my enemies. I don't worry about the future."
After dinner Gonzalez and his friends piled into his white Mercedes and headed for his downtown apartment. He drove the car through empty streets wet from a cold rain, past the silhouettes of abandoned and crumbling buildings. In such spots the utter darkness of Detroit is as complete and foreboding as Kurope during the war.
The future Gonzalez said he didn't worry about now seems as murky as the air that night. Six months of courtship, and the Tigers still don't know if he will stay.
In a more hopeful moment, before Gonzalez had experienced the vastness of Comerica Park and the ineptitude of his new team, the Tigers printed pocket-sized informational brochures about the shiny new ballpark, with a smiling Gonzalez on the cover. The tag line below the photograph resonates with unintended irony: YOU'LL LOVE PLAYING HERE.
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