Adrian Gonzalez has helped the Dodgers reconnect with their fans.
Roots Go Deep
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When you drive south on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles, in the direction of Dodger Stadium, past the Mexican and Salvadoran restaurants, the grocers and the auto shops, you encounter a massive blue-and-white sign.
It stands over the entrance to the 110 freeway and shows the Los Angeles Dodgers' All-Star first baseman from a sideways angle. The most prominent feature is his back, specifically the name scrawled across it, one shared by many families across the city. It says, "Gonzalez."
The fervor to land Gonzalez was about a lot of things. First, of course, it was about replacing the anemic production they had gotten out of their first basemen, notably James Loney. It was about a weak crop of free agents on the horizon. But it was also about symbolism, Gonzalez giving the Dodgers their biggest star of Mexican heritage since Fernando Valenzuela. Like anything else in the wake of the Frank McCourt era, it was about reconnecting with their fans.
The Dodgers are perfectly willing to acknowledge the importance of Gonzalez's heritage in their efforts to court fans. In fact, they embrace it. Why shouldn't they? The Dodgers' organization has a long history of promoting diversity and connecting with its multicultural fan base.
"You start with Jackie Robinson as a symbol of what this franchise is and continue to Sandy Koufax, who was really a role model for a generation of post-war Americans trying to assimilate," president Stan Kasten said. "You continue through Fernando Valenzuela, Hideo Nomo, Chan Ho Park and now Adrian. That gets to the identity of what the Dodgers have always been."
Kasten said acquiring Gonzalez "checked all the boxes." He is a powerful, smooth-fielding first baseman, a Californian, a Mexican-American and one of the game's more community-minded players.
"He's really been a dream come true since he arrived," Kasten said.
The Dodgers were not shy about taking advantage of Gonzalez's bicultural roots over the winter. Gonzalez, who was born in the United States to Mexican parents, grew up in Tijuana and San Diego, playing on both sides of the border. He is perfectly bilingual in English and Spanish. No Dodgers player made more public appearances this winter than Gonzalez, who often had to drive 100 miles north from La Jolla. He dedicated a field in Tijuana. He handed out Christmas toys to kids in East L.A. He was at the Dodgers' holiday party at the stadium. He appeared at a fundraiser for a group that raises cancer awareness in Spanish-speaking communities.
"I've only seen that level of excitement and connection with the fans in events I've done with Fernando [Valenzuela]," Dodgers publicist Yvonne Carrasco said. "He brought that kind of excitement everywhere we went."
The excitement level might never reach the pitch of Fernandomania in the 1980s, but the man who lived that senses something like it could be building with Gonzalez and, perhaps, third baseman Luis Cruz, a native of northern Mexico.
"When he came to the plate after that trade, I was so excited, because the people, the fans, were cheering so much," Valenzuela said. "I think they're receiving him pretty good and I think it's going to be great for all the Latins and Mexicans living in Los Angeles.
"It's going to be good, not only for the team but for the community." There is only the faintest sliver of connection between the two Dodgers icons. Fernando remembers facing Gonzalez a couple of times as his career was winding down in the Mexican league and Gonzalez was an up-and-coming youngster.
"I can't remember what happened. I'm pretty sure he got a hit," Fernando said.
"We just enjoy giving back," Gonzalez said. "The fact that L.A. has such a big Mexican-American community, it always helps when people have a connection with you."
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