April 27, 2009
THE GONZALEZ FILE
Who: Daniel Gonzalez
Height/Weight: 5-foot-11, 170 pounds
Hometown: Mesquite, N.M.
High School: Las Cruces High
Last College: El Paso Community College
Parents: Ruben & Maria Gonzalez
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who's the strongest Lobo of all?
Well, probably not shortstop Danny Gonzalez, but it took Lobo coach Ray Birmingham a while to convince the 5-foot-11, 170-pounder from Mesquite, N.M., that he wasn't the second coming of The Incredible Hulk.
Or Lou Ferrigno, the body builder who played The Hulk on TV.
"Danny came in trying to hit home runs," said Birmingham of his junior infielder. "I made him look in the mirror. It was a battle for a while. He looked in the mirror and saw Lou Ferrigno. I saw Pee Wee Herman or maybe Barney Fife. So we changed some things."
What Birmingham did was shorten Gonzalez's swing by getting him to close his stance a bit and choke up on the bat a bit. To Birmingham, this was simply constructing a dependable, contact hitter. To Gonzalez, this was akin to turning Barry Bonds into, well, Pee Wee Herman.
"At first, he was complaining to people that coach was making him punch the ball the other way; turning him into a Punch & Judy hitter," said Birmingham. "He saw some power that I wasn't noticing. He finally caught on."
There were a few other things that Gonzalez needed to catch on about, too, when it came to stepping up from junior college ball to New Mexico Lobo ball.
A scene from the movie Hoosiers reflects the message that Birmingham had to get across to his talented shortstop. It's the scene where Gene Hackman measures the height of a basketball rim to emphasize to his players that the game really hasn't changed that much simply because the setting had gotten bigger.
Birmingham said he made the same point to Gonzalez about the fields Gonzalez roamed at El Paso Community College and the fields he would patrol as a Lobo.
"It's still 90 feet to the bases and 60 feet to the mound," said Birmingham. "He had to figure that out.
"He made division I bigger than it was and the people around me were panicking because he wasn't playing great defense in the fall. I saw him play in junior college and I told them, `He'll be fine.' Danny got past all that and he has been one outstanding shortstop."
Said Gonzalez: "The changes were pretty much mental, but there are other adjustments because the talent is better and the pitching is better. You see more pitchers up here at this level."
At El Paso CC, Gonzalez was all-league and all-region, hitting .405 in 57 games as a sophomore. He also was an all-district and all-state player at Las Cruces High. He was much needed to come through this season at short because the Lobos had lost Scott Gracey to the Major League draft.
"I had to make a lot of adjustments from what I had been doing in El Paso," said Gonzalez. "I had to tweak it up."
Said Birmingham: "He makes all the routine plays and the only thing I asked him to do was make more plays in the hole. Now, he is making those, too. He is one good shortstop. He has taken away my fears about that position."
Gonzalez also has been solid at the plate. He is batting .313 for the season and .356 in Mountain West Conference play. He is one of three Lobos to start all 43 games.
And, oh, yeah -- he has smacked two home runs with that Punch & Judy swing. So Ray, do you think that really was Lou Ferrigno in the mirror?
"He can hit all the homers he wants," said Birmingham. "But I had better keep seeing those singles, too."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner