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ALEX GONZALEZ | MENTOR

 

 

Teammate and friend

 

'I go to him for advice, for everything,' Miguel Cabrera says of Alex Gonz?lez.

 

BY KEVIN BAXTER

 

kbaxter@herald.com

 

 

MARACAY, Venezuela - Miguel Cabrera will never forget his first game in the big leagues -- and not only because he won it with an extra-inning home run. He got nearly as big a thrill just from looking at the lineup card that afternoon and seeing his name listed alongside Alex Gonz?lez's.

 

''It was emotional,'' Cabrera says. ``I felt happy. One of the reasons I'm with the Marlins is because Alex is there.''

 

There are no more disparate personalities on the Marlins roster than the happy-go-lucky Cabrera and the intensely serious Gonz?lez, who grew up just miles apart. Despite that, they share more than just the same hometown.

 

Their fathers were standout amateur baseball players, and their mothers played for Venezuela's national softball team. Both were drafted as shortstops, hit late-inning homers in their big-league debuts and made the All-Star team in their first full season.

 

Yet it's their differences that have defined their relationship.

 

Cabrera, 21, is an incessant talker and practical joker. Gonz?lez, 27, is a fiercely devoted father but shy and so quiet even his father complains about his long periods of silence.

 

''That's why we get along,'' says Cabrera, who grew up idolizing Gonz?lez and says he signed with the Marlins in part because he wanted to play with him. ``We always get together after the game. I go to him for advice, for everything.''

 

AMONG THE BEST

 

Both have shined on the field, with Cabrera establishing himself as one of baseball's top young power hitters and Gonz?lez solidifying his reputation as one of the game's best-fielding shortstops.

 

''The important thing is to do the job and demonstrate that I can do a good job. The fans, the journalists and the teams know I can play shortstop, that I can make all kinds of plays,'' says Gonz?lez, whose quiet bat -- despite leading National League shortstops with 23 home runs and 79 RBI last summer, he's a .242 lifetime hitter who has stuck out at least 100 times in each of his four full seasons -- probably cost him the notoriety he needed to win Gold Gloves the past two summers.

 

''There's no doubt in my mind he should have won a couple of Gold Gloves by now,'' says Perry Hill, the Marlins highly regarded infield coach who helped Luis Castillo (2003 and '04) and Derrek Lee (2003) win Gold Gloves. ``He affects games in so many ways. He gets to balls that a lot of shortstops don't get to [so] he makes innings shorter and he saves pitchers pitches.

 

``We hope that as time goes on . . . people will fully realize how good he is.''

 

In high school, Gonz?lez was a standout in three sports and probably would have enjoyed a long career as a guard on Venezuela's national basketball team if he had not decided to dedicate himself to baseball.

 

That athleticism has served him well at shortstop.

 

''I've had an awful lot of infielders -- an awful lot,'' Hill says. ``And Alex Gonz?lez is far and away the best I've ever had at going back on shallow fly balls and foul balls down the line. He could be a great center fielder.''

 

MISSING OUT

 

Unfortunately, Gonz?lez wasn't able to display any of those skills for his family and friends in Venezuela this winter. After surgery to remove bone chips in his right elbow, the Marlins four times refused to grant Gonz?lez permission to play in Venezuela's winter league. So Gonz?lez took pregame grounders with his Caracas teammates, then watched from the sidelines Saturday night as Cabrera's Tigers won their second consecutive title in the best-of-7 league championship series.

 

''You play eight or nine months in the United States and they want to see you play here,'' Gonz?lez says of his family and fans. ``I just wanted to play eight or nine games. I don't think [the Marlins] understand.''

 

At this Gonz?lez frowns -- but then he frowns at everything. His mother, however, isn't fooled. Her son, she says, is smiling on the inside whenever he steps on a field.

 

''I feel very proud,'' Maryuri Gonz?lez says. ``I'm always asking God that his success continues.''

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Gonzo has really improved the past few years. He still cant hit but he is at least a contributor rather than a detriment. I remember when he was battling with the Mendoza line all the time and this would seriously affect his fielding. Now we can at least rely on him to be a super defensive SS, hit around 30 doubles and 20 HRs and drive in some runs. Too bad he still doesnt know what the heck a walk is.

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he's a .242 lifetime hitter who has stuck out at least 100 times in each of his four full seasons -- probably cost him the notoriety he needed to win Gold Gloves the past two summers.

 

I hate the fact that this is a possibility. Alex is the best f***ing defensive SS in the Majors, yup? we all know it. its the the "Gold Glove and an O.K. Bat" award. thats bulls*** and he WILL win it this year.

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