Gonzalez's defense should improve with his switch this season to leftfield from centerfield, where he was miscast because of his lack of speed. A career .259 hitter. Gonzalez figures he should reach at least .280 this year, though to get to that level he would have to hit to right-field more often and reduce his strikeouts (261 over the past two years). He has been compared to a young Dave Winfield because of his body type, his attacking style of hitting and his long but quick swing. Unlike Winfield, though, Gonzalez has a slight upward arc to his swing that makes him more of a natural home run hitter.
"He's the kind of guy who you'll look back on and say, 'It was an honor playing with him,' " says Texas third baseman Dean Palmer. "I'm talking about Hall of Fame caliber. He's that special."
The screen door of the elder Gonzalez's house swings open constantly for visitors, which explains why Juan the father is in the kitchen taking some mean hacks with a flyswatter at some unwelcome guests. Flores the motorcycle cop stops in to have a picture autographed. Then there are Josu� P�rez, who coordinates Juan's appearances in Puerto Rico, and the jovial Germ�n Mel�ndez, the self-described second father to Juan, and Luis and...can someone please answer the phone?
"Since his first day in the major leagues it has been like this," Lel� says. "The first call comes in at eight in the morning, and the phone just keeps ringing all day. When he goes back to the States to play, it goes down dramatically."
Gonzalez's father, who does construction work on the side, recently added a second floor to the house to accommodate Juan, Jackie and Juan Igor. There is a balcony framed by two sweeping arches. The home run king can stand there and look past Highway 2 and see the multicolored cubical houses of Alto de Cuba teetering on the hillside like baby blocks.
So, the road signs on the edge of the barrio lie. There is an exit to those streets. There is a way out of the barrio, right? Yes, but for Juan Gonzalez, the place and its people always are within view.