This interview was conducted in Spanish and has been translated. Read it here.
Los Angeles first baseman Adrián González was born in San Diego, then spent several years in Tijuana as a child with his Mexican-born parents. Now, he talks to reporter Marly Rivera about moving back to the U.S. in elementary school, how Mexico is different now and whether he thinks baseball players should speak out on social issues.
When you were growing up in Mexico, what attracted you to baseball?
I come from a baseball family. My dad played baseball all his life; so did my two older brothers. I come from an area in the north, Tijuana, where baseball is the No. 1 sport.
Was baseball always your passion?
I played other sports, but baseball was always my family’s passion.
How proud is your family, especially being from that area, to see what you have accomplished?
My family is very proud. The whole family is involved in baseball. My dad has a baseball academy in Tijuana with my brother. Obviously, my middle brother, Edgar, played in the major leagues. My older brother played in college, but he got hurt.
Is there more pressure to perform when you come from a baseball family?
No, I’ve never seen it that way. I just have fun. I don’t care what people say. I just come here to have fun and play ball. If things go well, great, very good, thank God. If not, I thank God too, because I am on a baseball diamond.
How difficult was the transition, moving from Mexico to the United States, and learning English?
When I first got to elementary school in the United States, it was a bit difficult because I obviously I did not speak English, and I had to be on a special program for people who spoke only Spanish. But the school had good programs so you could adjust, more or less. Two or three years later, I could speak it, more or less. I could get by. So I felt more comfortable.
Being bilingual, were you the interpreter in the minor leagues?
When I signed, I was already bilingual and spoke both languages. For most Latinos, I was the one who would be there with them, and I would take them to eat and would explain what was on the menu. Those were fun times with them and enabled us to spend more time together.
That balance of being bilingual and bicultural, did it make it easier to understand both sides?
Yes, of course, because each person has their own point of view and their own way of being, their roots, their culture. Each country plays [baseball] differently. Even Latin countries play differently from one another. And one is able to identify with each one of them and also respect each one’s style. It’s about accepting everybody for who they are and having fun.
How do you strike that the balance with baseball’s ‘unwritten’ rules?
Those are people who want to control baseball, and the reality is that you don’t need to control it. You have to let it be and allow people to have fun. Obviously, you shouldn’t do anything that offends your opponent, but if you are doing it to have fun yourself and have fun with your team, it’s all good.
I have not seen it here [with the Dodgers] but some clubhouses are a bit fractured. Latinos hang out with Latinos and Americans with Americans. Have you felt you needed to bridge the two cultures?
I have the ability to talk to Americans and talk to Latinos; I can go out to dinner with both of them. So, often, I would end up being the one inviting people: “Hey, let’s go eat, come with us.” Even if that person wasn’t able to communicate a lot, communication in baseball is universal. So going to dinner, even if you’re not able to talk all the time with a person who may not speak your language, you can spend time with them.
Nearly a third of MLB is made up of Latin players. Have you seen baseball change with the influence of Latin baseball players?
I have not seen much change. The only thing I’ve seen is that the media and people in general talk more about Latin people. It’s all over social media, on camera; they talk about everything. In the past, if something would happen, they would let it be and nobody talked about things, so they did not come to light. But things [in baseball] are very similar. The things that have changed are the athleticism of players and the way baseball is played, but in regards to Latinos and Americans, nothing much has changed.
Why do you think baseball players are not as vocal as NBA or NFL athletes on political or social issues?
Because the truth is that we are in a team to play baseball and we are not politicians. So politics are for politicians and baseball is for baseball players. So one doesn’t get into that. If you want to be a politician, then do it once you retire.
When I talked to Rick Rentería from the White Sox, especially being Mexican-American in this political climate, he told me that he prefers to express himself privately because he represents his organization when he is wearing his uniform. Is it that way for you?
If I feel I want to talk about something, I will talk about it. As I always say, I don’t care what people think. If I want to say something, I will; but most of the time, I just don’t get into politics. I don’t want to mess with politics. If I do something, I do it in my private life and not for people to know.
What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in Tijuana from when you were a kid?
Baseball is still played very much the same way it was when I was growing up. I have nephews in Tijuana, and they play in Chula Vista [California], and they play on both sides of the border, just like I did. More people from Chula Vista, on the United States side, want to go to play baseball in Tijuana now more than before. Baseball has developed a lot in Tijuana, and it’s still one of the best in little leagues in the world.
Why do you think this has happened? Because the quality of baseball has increased?
Yes, I think a lot of people are paying more attention to baseball on an individual basis. They are practicing more and have more desire, more enthusiasm and are putting in more time. When young kids do that, baseball improves.
After your baseball career, would you like to get involved in helping baseball grow in Mexico or would you like to be a manager or coach?
I am not thinking about that right now. I will only worry about that at the end of my career.