- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"What do you feed this kid?" the coach asked.
"Why are you asking?" the father said.
"He hit three mammoth home runs today," the coach said. "It was incredible."
"That was the turning point," the father says now. "It was the first time I realized he really had something."
The next year Luis Rosa, then a Ranger scout, was in the Gonzalezes' living room seeking the signatures of the elder Juan and his wife, Lel�, on a professional baseball contract. Rosa was offering a 16-year-old boy who weighed 170 pounds a bonus of $75,000. The father asked for more. Rosa said he would go no higher.
"Excuse us," the father said. He, Lel� and young Juan talked in the kitchen. A few minutes later, the father signed the contract and shoved it in front of Rosa.
"He was outvoted, two to one," says Rosa, who now coordinates Latin American operations for the San Francisco Giants. "When I signed Juan, I told a TV station I just signed the top home run hitter to come out of Latin America. When the books are closed on his career, he could reach 500."
No Latin player has hit more than 379 home runs, a total attained by both Cepeda and Tony Perez. In 1989, at age 19, Gonzalez slammed his first major league home run after a late-season promotion from Double A. The next year he hit four more in another September cameo. In '91, his first full season in the big leagues, he hit 27. Then he hit the 43 last year, when he also drove in 109 runs and batted .260.
His weight has been climbing, too, especially since he began a serious weightlifting regimen four years ago. He reported to camp this year at a sculpted 226 pounds, looking very much like an Igor, though the nickname predates his muscular physique. He has been known as Igor since he was 10 because of his passion for a professional wrestler named The Mighty Igor. He and Jackie named their first-born Juan Igor Gonzalez.
"When I first saw Juan, he was 16 and a gangly kid," says Ranger assistant general manager Sandy Johnson. "But he had a big frame, and you could tell he was a good athlete. He had tremendous bat speed, long arms and a natural power hitter's swing. We felt right from the beginning we had something special. Honestly, what he has done is not all that surprising. He's capable of playing better defense, hitting 50 home runs and, as he matures, batting .300."