BY DAVE SCHWAB
Third graders and some of their parents at Bird Rock Elementary were excited: After all, it isn’t every day you get to meet one of your sports idols.
And Padres’ All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez didn’t disappoint. Arm in a sling from recent surgery, the slugger turned out at teacher Kim Williams’ classroom to field questions, talk about life and being a ballplayer, and appear later at an all-school assembly.
The reason why Gonzalez was there was because a relative of one of Williams’ students, Christy Jorgensen, entered her in a Round Table contest that offered a guest appearance by an unnamed Padre as a prize.
Many kids — parents too — wore Padres jerseys in anticipating of seeing one up close. One student wearing a Detroit Tigers jersey showed it to Gonzalez and apologized for wearing it.
Children asked a lot of questions of Gonzalez and he generously answered each and every one, even the one that kept being asked about how long he’d been a ballplayer. “All my life, ever since I was 3 or 4,” he answered.
Gonzalez said his father was a baseball player and his older brother, Edgar, who used to be a Padre, just returned from playing baseball in Japan.
It’s been rumored Gonzalez could be traded before next year. One student asked him about that.
“I hope I don’t but if I do … I’ll be OK with it,” he said. “Its part of the business. If I do, I do. It’s like you guys, you have to go to a different classroom next year. It could happen.”
Teacher Williams asked Gonzalez about his charitable foundation and he knocked one out of the park for everyone with his answer.
“The foundation that I and my wife Betsy have is to help underprivileged youth in academics, athletics and health,” he said. “We feel if you can do those three things, you have a good foundation for the future.”
Asked what advice he’d give to budding ballplayers in the classroom, Gonzalez talked a lot about perseverance.
“You’ve got to remember it’s a game of failure,” he said. “Your great hitters lose seven out of 10 times so you have to learn to be OK with losing. You keep your head high when you lose, and you keep your head high when you win.”
Gonzalez stressed team sports are about the group, not the individual.
“If you win, it’s never you that won the game,” he said. “The same thing goes for losing. If you lose you don’t blame it on one person: It’s the whole team that lost. So you have to learn to be a team player. Baseball is a team sport. Every person has their job to do so as a group you can win.”
Gonzalez had one other bit of practical advice to impart to his admirers: “Practice, practice, practice. Even now, that’s all we do is just practice so that everything in the game can be engraved in your body and in your mind.”
Gonzalez stressed to students the value of education, noting it applies every bit as much on the field as in the classroom. “If you want to play high school or college baseball, you have to get good grades,” he said. “If you don’t have good grades, you’re not going to be able to play.”