The Heavy Burden Of Red Sox SS Alex Gonzalez

As we begin the ALDS showdown between the Red Sox and Angels tonight, please take a moment prior to the opening pitch to channel some good thoughts toward Boston shortstop Alex Gonzalez. He could use them right now.

Alex Gonzalez

Whatever it takes for a professional to get into the right frame of mind to play the game of baseball at this level day after day, multiply that by about a hundred for Gonzalez. The Boston shortstop has had a lot on his mind the past two years, as his 3-year-old son, Johan, is in a coma in a Florida hospital, doctors holding out little hope that he will ever recover. But somehow, his father carries on.

“It’s hard, but this is my job,” the Red Sox shortstop says. “I try to focus on baseball but sometimes it enters my mind, so I’ve got to be strong.”

Gonzalez has to be strong because while he plays baseball, his 3-year-old son, Johan, lies in a hospital bed in Miami. Johan has been in a coma for the past two years, his chances of survival remote.

Until he sat down for an interview with ESPN BOSTON’s Amy K. Nelson for an article published on Tuesday, not many had been aware of Gonzalez’s story. Indeed, it even came as news to many of his teammates.

In the years since Johan became unresponsive, Gonzalez has gone about his business and found ways to concentrate on baseball. This year, it has been steadying Boston’s middle infield since he was traded in mid-August from the Reds, just 18 months removed from knee surgery after he broke his knee cap and missed all of 2008.

Yet as he enters the postseason, he is playing with myriad questions about his future. He could be a free agent after this season (the Red Sox hold a club option for 2010), at a time when, at 32 years old with meager offensive numbers, he may find it difficult to find a lucrative, multiyear contract. With mounting medical bills for Johan’s care, and an uncertain future about his son’s ability to wake from the coma, it is a heavy burden with which to play.

“I tell him he’s due for some good luck,” says his agent, Eric Goldschmidt. “He’s had three lifetimes of bad luck.”

Gonzalez’s son was born prematurely, and had to endure several surgeries because he had undersized organs. In 2007 he slipped into a coma; and for several days that season, Gonzalez would run off of the field after every inning and get on the cell phone for updates from the hospital.

It’s rather unbelievable that someone could maintain his poise and concentration under those circumstances, but somehow Gonzalez has done it. Those who know him are not surprised.

“It affected him off the field, certainly, as it should anybody,” said Chad Moeller, who was Gonzalez’s teammate with the Reds. “Not on the field. They gave him time to be away when things sounded worse each time. When he was there, he was the same guy. The play did not get affected at all.”

So if you see your way clear to root for Gonzalez to have a good game tonight — even if you’re an Angels fan — I’m sure you’d get some good karma style points of some kind. I know I’ll be pulling for him.