The sting of September is still there, just lingering. And in a way, that's exactly how Red Sox first baseman Adrian Gonzalez wants it. That way, something good can come out of it.
"It's always in the back of your head," Gonzalez said by phone on Wednesday. "For me, personally, I'll use it as an extra bit of motivation to put myself in a better position to help the team. I always look back on what I could have done better, and you always try to improve in those areas and use that as your motivation for the offseason."
However, don't mistake that motivation for misery. There are a lot of good things happening for Gonzalez right now. His wife, Betsy, is close to delivering their first child, and it's a monumental event for the couple.
"It's incredible. It's a miracle -- a blessing for us," Gonzalez. "We're just very thrilled and excited about the baby girl on the way. She could come at any minute now. It's about that time where, at any minute, if she feels anything, you're just kind of like, 'What is it? What is it?' It's really an exciting time in our lives, and I'm grateful to God for the position that we're in, to be able to have a kid. We struggled trying to have a kid for a while, so this is really a blessing."
And as he waits for Betsy to go into labor, Gonzalez is having some fun from a marketing standpoint. He will be on the cover of Sony PlayStation's "MLB 12 The Show", an honor that teammate Dustin Pedroia enjoyed in 2009.
"This is really amazing. It's really cool," Gonzalez said. "It's something that you enjoy looking at when you're a kid. You look at whoever is on the cover, so this is a really cool experience."
Though the 2011 season ended in agony for Gonzalez and the Red Sox, there was some individual success.
Last week, Gonzalez was announced as an American League Gold Glove Award winner and also won an AL Silver Slugger Award. Though humbled, Gonzalez pointed out the bittersweet nature of such hardware when team goals fall short.
"Those things are always great awards, and I'm humbled and I feel good about them, and it makes you want to work harder to get better," said Gonzalez. "But there's still a little bit of a bittersweet feeling knowing that we didn't make the playoffs, and you look at those rewards and you're like, 'I wish there was more behind it.' You always try to get better, so next year we're in the playoffs and we do have a chance to win it all."
As far as the AL Most Valuable Player Award goes, Gonzalez is sure to get some votes. But if he was able to cast one himself, it would be for his teammate.
"I'm really pulling for Jacoby [Ellsbury]," said Gonzalez. "I think he had a great year from every aspect of the game, and I think he's a great guy and I'm never going to be one to vote for myself. I think [Justin] Verlander has a great argument as well, but I hope Jacoby gets it."
When the AL MVP Award is announced on Nov. 21, that will probably be the last reminder of 2011 for Gonzalez. His mind is already focused on next season and what he can do better.
One of the things Gonzalez points to is leadership. He took pride in being a leader in San Diego, but he admits it was hard to find comfort being a leader during his first year in Boston.
Now, with a year under his belt, and a new manager to be named at some point soon, Gonzalez thinks his voice will be one the team can rely on.
"I was in that position with San Diego," Gonzalez said. "I wasn't very vocal as far as meetings, but when there was a time to talk to a player, you did that. I pulled guys aside a lot and talked to them and communicated with the manager. Me and [Padres manager] Buddy [Black] had a good relationship, so we communicated and found a way to make each player be in a position where they could succeed.
"That's somewhat the role I would like to take, just to help out the guys and be there for the guys. I think that's the most important thing, to have a good communication line between the coaching staff and the players. That's always needed."
On the heels of the September collapse, the Red Sox took as much heat for their clubhouse culture as they did for their subpar play.
"It is part of it, because people look for answers. Even if the reality is that we just didn't play well, that's not good enough, especially for people that want answers," Gonzalez said. "You know, things like this are going to come out. Not all of them are true, like I've said all along. Some of them are somewhat in line with things that happened, but most of them are not true. You understand where they're coming from, and these things are going to come out. From my perspective, I don't pay attention to that."
What Gonzalez will focus on -- aside from becoming a father -- is a full winter of offseason workouts, something he didn't have the benefit of last year as he recovered from right shoulder surgery.
"It's going to be a full offseason of being able to prepare and being 100 percent," said Gonzalez. "I'm not going to be coming in trying to get ready for the season. Those [injuries] are all hopefully behind me, and I'll come in 100-percent strong and 100-percent healthy and be ready to go from Day One of Spring Training, and get on the field and do everything that the rest of the team does. That's really exciting and I'm really looking forward to that."
Gonzalez thinks the recovery from shoulder surgery impacted him both in the first and last months of 2011. That is when he lacked the power he's accustomed to.
"I think overall, you start the season and it's cold, and you're not really sure if your shoulder is 100 percent. So that first month, it was hard to get going," Gonzalez said. "I think even statistically, it showed that I started getting comfortable and hot toward the end of April. Those little things I can do away with, and hopefully I can come out of the gate feeling good next year.
"And when it comes to September, hopefully I'll be a little stronger. I feel like I had a good September, average-wise and on-base-wise, but it wasn't there from a power standpoint, just from tiring out. Those months are months I know I can get better, and if I'm better in those two months -- which I really wasn't all that bad, but if I can get better -- I can help the team get in the playoffs from that sense. I'm just really looking forward to being in a position where I can be the best, physically, for the entire season and not just part of the season."
The one thing Gonzalez doesn't know at the moment is who his manager will be next season. Thus far, the Red Sox have interviewed Pete Mackanin, Dale Sveum and Sandy Alomar Jr., a teammate of Gonzalez's with the Rangers.
"I'm following the manager's search pretty closely," Gonzalez said. "Just keeping up with who is being interviewed and all that. I know that [general manager] Ben [Cherington] and the guys are going to choose the best guy, and he'll be great. Hopefully it will be somebody I'll have a great relationship with and I'll be able to have that same relationship I had with Buddy."