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03/19/07 11:12 PM ET
Gonzalez's passion for game reignited
Infielder came out of retirement after getting hungry to play
By Alan Eskew / Special to MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Alex Gonzalez had had enough of baseball last year. After nearly 12 years in the Majors, most as a starting shortstop, Gonzalez was hardly seeing the field with the Phillies.
In late May, Gonzalez had 36 at-bats and four hits and opted to retire.
"The season started, and a lot of things that I felt were going to take place as far as playing time did not take place," Gonzalez said. "I found myself very unhappy with what I was doing. I'm a big believer that you've got to be happy with where you are, and at that time, baseball really wasn't working out for me. I felt like I just needed to do something else."
Gonzalez went in to talk to Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who was the GM when he was the starting Blue Jays shortstop, to inform him of his decision.
"I told him my concerns and where I was headed, where my frame of mind was," Gonzalez said. "He understood where I was coming from, and was very supportive of my decision. That is where we parted ways."
Gonzalez was reinstated on Nov. 1 from the voluntarily retired list and signed on Jan. 12 with the Royals, to a Minor League contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
"Things changed," Gonzalez said. "I think it was a process of reviving myself and my mental frame of mind and my physical being over the break was basically what I needed. I just think I needed a break away from the game. I started to get hungry for it, to get back on the field, which is what I was wanting."
Gonzalez drove in the winning run with a single in the eighth inning in the Royals' 4-3 victory over the White Sox on Monday. In the top of the inning, Gonzalez made a diving stop to prevent a run. The Royals may have picked up a valuable piece of the puzzle by signing Gonzalez.
"We called several teams that were looking for a player like myself," Gonzalez said. "I got a lot of interest from Kansas City, which is what I wanted to hear -- how interested a club would be in what I could offer. Kansas City was obviously the right place for me."
"I'm always looking to start. My hunger is to play every day on that field. The other thing is to be part of a team. That is where I want to get back to, to contribute, help a team win. That is what I learned from getting away from the game, looking from the outside in is how important everybody is on that roster to helping the team win. Whatever my role is, I have a very positive outlook on it."
Did Gonzalez find teams skeptical when he called about coming out of retirement?
"I think they wanted to know if my intentions were the right intentions of coming back. That is one thing I did speak about to Kansas City. They have my 100 percent commitment on coming back."
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With second baseman Mark Grudzielanek's knee surgery on March 5 and likely starting the season on the disabled list, that opens a utility spot. Plus, Gonzalez could test shortstop Angel Berroa for the starting job.
"Gonzalez knows how to play," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "He knows what he is doing all the time. He's in the right place all the time. I think I've probably said five or six words to him all spring. That is, 'Hi, bye, see you later.' It is nice to have guys like that around. He's taking advantage of the situation. The situation is a little bit different for him than when he first came in with Grud not going to be the Opening Day second baseman. We're really fortunate to have him. We don't know what we're going to do with the utility spot, but he is certainly in the thick of it."
Gonzalez started at third base in 2005 for the Devil Rays, but has never played second base.
"But if I had to play it, it wouldn't be a problem," Gonzalez said. "Shortstop has always been my comfort zone."
Gonzalez said he is not interested in going to Omaha, the Royals' Triple-A affiliate.
"It is either here or another club," Gonzalez said.
He said his contract includes a clause that the Royals have to make a decision on him with about a week before they break camp, either putting him on the roster or releasing him.
"It keeps the door open for me to make another big-league club," Gonzalez said. "I would like to stay here. I think this is a very good place for me. My focus is on making this club completely."