The Gonzalez Sports Academy, a 28,000-square-foot facility in Chula Vista, Calif., named for All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and his brothers, is full of excited little leaguers. You hear them the moment they spot the 6'2", 225-pound slugger, who is decked out in Red Sox garb. Gonzalez high-fives his tiny fans in a training room filled with dumbbells, benches and racks; then, flanked by his brothers David Jr. and Edgar, he makes his way to the batting cages.
The youngsters stream in single file as Gonzalez plops a ball onto the tee for each one, then looks on approvingly as they take their cuts. He loves teaching the kids. When he was their age, he was fielding ground balls in a field next to an airport in Mexico. That's where he first fell in love with baseball.
Down in Tijuana
Gonzalez was born in San Diego in 1982, but his family moved to Tijuana, Mexico a year later. He spent the next decade tagging along with his father, David Gonzalez Sr., a first baseman for the Mexican National Team. Gonzalez and his brothers would go to their father's games, shag fly balls during warm ups and help out in the dugout.
After work, Gonzalez Sr. would take the boys to a field near the Tijuana Airport. David Jr. played shortstop, Edgar was at second, and young Adrian played first, like his dad. The time he spent on that dusty field established a foundation for his future success. "I learned everything I know from those fields," says Gonzalez.
In the early '90s, the family moved to the Bonita neighborhood in Chula Vista. Gonzalez enrolled in Eastlake High School, where his love of baseball blossomed further. The boys' father actually installed an 80-foot-long batting cage and a professional pitching machine in their backyard. The Gonzalez brothers spent hours creating their own lineups, practicing Major League swings, and emulating their heroes.
"There [were] a few players I would copy, one of them being Chipper Jones," recalls Gonzalez. "I would have to tap like he taps, and it really allowed me to stay behind the ball and have a good weight transfer into my swing." That swing, which Gonzalez refined in his backyard cage, would launch his pro career.
Battle Through It
When Edgar was playing for Eastlake High, he asked if he could bring his younger brother to practice. Young Adrian put on a show, and coach David Gonzalez (no relation) noticed his talent immediately. "The first pitch I threw him, he hit it out," says Coach Gonzalez. "I just said to myself, 'Man, I have never seen a swing like that.'"
Between high school ball in Chula Vista and off-season games in Tijuana, Gonzalez played over 120 games a year, earning valuable experience. "In Mexico, I got to play as a 14-, 15-yearold amateur against 30- and 40-year olds who had played professional baseball," he says. His brothers David (shortstop) and Edgar (2B/3B) played alongside their father (DH). Gonzalez held his own among much older, better players. The experience paid off.
As a senior at Eastlake, Gonzalez hit .645 with 13 homers and 34 RBI in only 76 at-bats. He had become one of the top prospects in the country, and the Florida Marlins made him the first overall pick in the 2000 MLB Draft. "I was able to take batting practice with the team after I signed," says Gonzalez. "My family was with me and it was just incredible."
Coach Gonzalez recalls that Adrian's "tightly knit family" never missed one of his games. "His dad was a big booster," he says. "He built the bleachers for me that are still there at Eastlake High School."
Support from his family was crucial when Gonzalez had to deal with an injury early in his pro career.
Gonzalez got off to a hot start playing for the Single-A Kane County Cougars in 2001, hitting .312 with 37 doubles, 17 home runs and 103 RBI. That summer, he was selected to play in the Futures Game along with teammate Miguel Cabrera. Success continued in 2002, as he slammed another 17 dingers and knocked in 96 runs for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs.
But the Marlins still weren't sold. Gonzalez had a propensity for injury, particularly to his wrists, and he needed surgery following the 2002 season. He says, "It was a struggle my first year out [after the surgery]. I went in to Triple-A, had a really bad first month, got sent down to Double-A, had a bad month there, and got traded to a different organization for the first time. That was difficult on me."
His response to these setbacks? "Just battle through it." And that's what he did. Gonzalez worked his way up through the Texas Rangers organization, finishing his first season at Triple-A Oklahoma City with a .315 batting average, 12 homers and 84 RBI in 115 games. This piqued the interest of the San Diego Padres, and they dealt for the slugger in 2006. For the next five seasons, Gonzalez crushed the ball for the Padres, hitting .288 and earning three All-Star appearances and a Gold Glove. He even got a chance to play with his brother Edgar, who suited up as a second baseman for the Padres in 2008 and 2009.
2010 was a big year for Gonzalez, who was traded to the Red Sox and signed a huge, seven-year contract extension, becoming a cornerstone of the franchise. Plus, the Gonzalez Sports Academy opened near Eastlake High School in Chula Vista. The boys were fortunate to have a father who made baseball a big part of their lives, and Gonzalez was pleased to follow suit for the benefit of young athletes in his hometown.
From Head to Toe
For Gonzalez, baseball always comes first. When STACK visited the Academy, he ripped through a total body workout prescribed by head trainer Tom Green—but only after a half hour of batting practice.
Gonzalez's training is aimed at challenging every muscle, from head to toe, with a barrage of unique, full body exercises. Green says, "We're working on flexibility, coordination, strength, power, speed—sticking all those things together. It's not only making [him] stronger physically, but also mentally, taking those two pieces and putting them together."
Green spent the off-season working with Gonzalez for a couple of hours at a time, two days a week—in addition to the training Gonzalez did on his own. Over the course of an hour, Gonzalez pushed or pulled resistance in a variety of ways without ever loading an Olympic bar. Non-traditional exercises like the Weighted Bear Crawl and the Reverse Lawnmower worked muscle groups that help Gonzalez stay stable and powerful at the plate. "You're getting a full range of motion pulling all the way down through your lats, abs and hips," says Green. Gonzalez pushed a sled with hundreds of pounds of weight 20 yards at a time. "It's suffering," says Green. "It takes awhile."
At times, Green had to peel him off the ground for another set. But Gonzalez still had enough energy to play with his nephew (Edgar's son), discuss the latest episode of Wipeout and throw a football with some of the facility's gym rats. He then finished off his session by flipping a 450-pound tire and performing Hanging One-Arm Rows and Rope Planks.
By training his entire body, Gonzalez is able to generate power from his legs up through his core and ultimately into his bat. It's easier to generate force when all the muscles are working in sync. "When I tell him to fire every muscle, it's just teaching him to get the brain programmed with the body," says Green. "[We're] teaching him to use his entire body as an athlete, not just as a baseball player. The more athletic he is, the better he's going to be at baseball."
Despite his years of hard work, Gonzalez never feels satisfied. "I always feel I'm not there," he says. "So I'm never going to be there. It's something that if you feel you're there, you're going to slow down or you're going to stop." He's come a long way from scooping up grounders on a dusty field in Tijuana, but he still has the same work ethic that propelled him to the Big Leagues. "The day I slow down is the day somebody else is going to take my spot," he says.
That day would seem to be far into the future. Gonzalez has become one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball, as evidenced by his selection as cover boy for the PS3 game, MLB 12: The Show (see box.)
From Mexico to Massachusetts, Adrian Gonzalez has lived and breathed baseball. This year, he's hoping to lead the Red Sox back to the top of the baseball heap. "The goal for this season and beyond is always the same," he says. "World Series Championship."
"Down to a Tee"
Gonzalez graces the cover of Sony's MLB 12: The Show, which he calls the most realistic baseball video game he's ever played.
To give gamers the heightened realism Sony wanted, Gonzalez suited up in a motion capture suit—a "really unique experience" that accurately captured the swing his fans have come to know and love.
Sony made three other improvements to the 2012 edition: revamped ball physics, collision awareness and pulse pitching. "It's the best way to play the game of baseball as if you were a Major Leaguer," Gonzalez claims. "The scouting reports are down to a tee, the pitchers, the controls, the hitters, the way they hit. Everything is as close to game action as possible."
Train Like Adrian Gonzalez
Green's mantra when training Gonzalez is "fire every muscle." Sessions consist of total-body exercises that work multiple muscle groups, helping to activate Gonzalez's core and bolster his All-Star swing.
Once the slugger's body gets used to the movements in his routine, Green makes adjustments to the exercises, sets and reps—not only to challenge Gonzalez's body, but to keep him mentally engaged. "Lifting weights tends to get boring," says Green. "So I always try to keep him on his toes with unconventional, full-body exercises that continue to push him."
The workout session STACK witnessed was unlike anything we've seen before. After a full 20-minute dynamic warm-up, Green put Gonzalez through several exercises to train stability, endurance and explosiveness, pushing his client to the brink of exhaustion, but always giving him as much rest as he needed to recover and hydrate before moving on.
Here are some key exercises from Gonzalez's program that you can work into your own routine:
Backward Weighted Bear Crawl
- Assume push-up position with hands on weight plates
- Pull weight with right arm toward right foot and step back
- Perform same motion on left side
- Continue bear crawl for specified distance
Coaching Points: Keep hips low and body flat at all times // Focus on controlling body
Sets/Distance: 3x10 yards, progress to 20 yards
- Assume push-up position with hands underneath shoulders, arms straight and feet on weight plates
- Walk backwards with upper body, keeping body straight and legs locked, continue for specified distance
Coaching Points: Keep abs tight // Get full extension through upper body // Push as far as possible each rep
Sets/Distance: 3x10 yards, progress up to 60 yards
Explosive Sled Rows
- Assume athletic stance with arms extended and hands on handles
- Lower into squat position
- Drive up to standing position, squeeze shoulder blades together and drive arms back to explosively pull sled toward you
- Step back to create tension in straps and repeat for prescribed distance
Coaching Points: Keep chest up and abs tight // Flex back during pull
Sets/Distance: 3-4x20 yards with full recovery between sets
Hanging One-Arm Row
- Grab strap with one hand
- Have partner hold feet
- Pull body up as high as possible
- Slowly return to start
- Repeat for specified reps with both arms
Coaching Points: Keep head slightly lower than hips // Keep hips as high as possible
Sets/Reps: 3x6-10 each arm
- Assume athletic stance
- Squat and get solid grip with hands under tire
- Drive through heels, extending hips, knees and ankles
- Forcefully shrug shoulders and catch tire at shoulder level
- Keep forward momentum and push through with arms to flip tire
Coaching Points: Keep chest up, back flat and abs tight
- Grab ropes and assume plank position
- To increase difficulty, lower body by allowing rope to slide through hands
Coaching Points: Keep body straight, abs tight and shoulders tucked in
Sets/Duration: 5x20 seconds
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock