DENVER (AP) — Rest assured, Carlos Gonzalez is a different player since August.
Turns out, the Colorado Rockies ‘ charismatic outfielder just needed a good night’s sleep.
Struggling at the plate early in the season, Gonzalez tossed and turned each night before finally visiting a sleep specialist about two months ago. Now, it’s his bat that’s awake as he and the Rockies are headed to the postseason for the first time since 2009. This is better than a dream, too, for the only holdover player from that ’09 squad.
“It’s just special,” said Gonzalez, whose team travels to Arizona to take on the Diamondbacks in the NL wild-card game Wednesday. “I went through a lot of struggles, losing seasons, rebuilding seasons. I’ve seen so many good players leaving this house.
“But I always believed I was going to be able to stay here and celebrate with my teammates and the fans. They always show me love. That means everything for me.”
The player nicknamed Cargo was hitting .214 in mid-July as he tinkered with his swing. And the harder the lifetime .291 hitter worked, the more he seemed to struggle.
And the more he struggled, the worse his sleeping habits became.
The pattern was similar each night — get home from a game, think about it, watch movies or TV until around 3 a.m. and fitfully fall asleep only to wake up exhausted.
A touch of insomnia is something that’s plagued him for years in large part because of all the travel. Last season, Gonzalez said he sometimes relied on sleeping pills to nod off.
“But I didn’t feel like they were helping me, because the next day I felt bad,” said Gonzalez, who boosted his average to .262 this season with a strong finish. “I was trying to stay away from those, but still not sleeping.
“Finally, I talked to my agent, talked to a lot of people, to figure out how we’re going to attack the problem. In August, that’s when I started talking to this doctor about doing the right thing to get to sleep.”
Mostly, it was some relaxation recommendations — keeping his room cool and dark, having his phone well out of reach and no movies after games. That’s helped him get a solid seven hours of sleep each night.
In addition, he also adjusted his grip on the bat. That, combined with slumber, has paid dividends, with Gonzalez hitting .325 over August and September with eight of his 14 homers.
“It’s not like we’re re-inventing something or trying to change my swing,” said Gonzalez, who turns 32 on Oct. 17. “I was trying to stay calm, lower my hands, not over-swing. I was trying to put a good swing to the ball. Stay in the zone.”
To a player, the Rockies were elated to get Gonzalez back into the postseason. It’s been eight years since he last popped the cork on a celebration in the clubhouse. In between, there have been plenty of highs such as winning three Gold Gloves, becoming the NL batting champ in 2010, making three All-Star squads and hitting a career-high 40 homers in 2015.
Of course, there have been lows: The finger/knee injuries that limited him to 70 games in 2014, a string of below .500 team records and the early struggles this season when he couldn’t buy a hit.
Last offseason, there was speculation that he might be traded, given that his contract runs out at the end of this season. But he’s long been the life of the party, the galvanizing presence, and Rockies general manager Jeff Bridich didn’t want to mess with clubhouse chemistry.
“There were so many rumors, ‘We’re going to trade him here or trade him there, we’re going to do this or that,’ but none of them were true. Ever,” Bridich said.
“This is the reason why right here,” Bridich added as he was soaked with bubbly after the Rockies clinched a wild-card spot Saturday. “We felt like he was going to be part of a special group that was going to bring us back to the postseason.”
This is how much Gonzalez’s teammates respect him: “Even if he struggles, he’s still the man of the team,” friend and fellow outfielder Gerardo Parra recently said. “We need this guy.”
Now that Gonzalez and the Rockies have reawakened, don’t sleep on them in the postseason, he insisted.
“All we were asking for is a chance,” Gonzalez said. “Now, everything is clicking.”
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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